Giant Leap

Theatre, Fringe
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Giant Leap
Steve Ullathorne

Let’s just take for granted that the 1969 moon landing was fake, yeah? That America felt the need to even the score against those damn Ruskies, who had been leading the space race and putting Nasa to shame. That they wanted to make good on the martyred JFK’s promise to have a man on the moon ‘before this decade is out’. That the recently elected Richard Nixon needed a distraction from the increasingly unpopular Vietnam mess that had been left on his desk. If we take such a starting point as true, it begs the question: who was tasked with making it up?

According to this whip-smart production from the Comedian’s Theatre Company, the team would include a big shot producer (Phil Nicol) and his screenwriter toady (Jeremy Lloyd), a sozzled novelist (Tom Stade), a nebbishy comic (Lewis Schaffer) and an uptight soldier (Graham Elwell), plus a secretary (Priscilla Adade-Helledy) to take it all down. The creatives aren’t necessarily household names – in fact, it’s almost a necessity that they’re not, as they all have much to gain from their complicity. The launch, the logistics, all that’s been worked out already; what these guys have to do is come up with the era-defining words to be spoken by Neil Armstrong as he exits the lunar module.

It’s a scenario rich in dramatic and comedic potential, and writers Mickey Down and Konrad Kay score some great one-liners amid the Strangelovian satire (‘Buzz is a code name… Armstrong’s voice tested well… does anyone remember the third astronaut?’). In the cast, Stade and Nicol have barrels of fun, the former making the most of his already slushy delivery over a swirling glass of whisky while the latter is a cross between a cocksure Tony Stark and Al Pacino at his most operatic. They’re such dominant personalities that the rest of the cast can’t help coming up a bit short: Schaffer’s purposefully unfunny comedian never engenders much sympathy, while Adade-Helledy’s sometimes shaky American accent deflates the overall illusion from time to time.

Still, Alexander Lass’s tight direction (coupled with sound designer Roly Witherow's archive recordings, which successfully keep the era alive during scene transitions) ensures no single performer has to carry the show for too long at a time. No one man is credited with crafting the final line, but the ensemble’s words still resonate strongly for mankind.

By: Niki Boyle

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