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An astronaut tells her son the story of Laika the space dog in this show for ages six-to-12
Well, you’re not likely to see a better dog onstage.
This tale about Laika, the pooch Russia sent into space in 1957, sees Josie Daxter (a human) play the pooch with a totally heart-opening yet strangely precise performance: although she stays upright on two legs, wearing a fluffy sweatshirt, every snuff and scratch and shiver is just very dog. When she taps her hand on her hip, you could swear it’s a tail wagging.
The story of Laika didn’t exactly end happily, although writer/directors Bryony Hannah and Avye Leventis manage this so there aren’t scores of children (not to mention adults) left distraught at her doggy demise. The story of the cosmonaut canine is, instead, really a way for Val, an astronaut and single mother in 2057, to prep her young son Sami for the fact she might not come back from a mission to Mars.
The two strands mostly entwine well: a training montage in which both Laika and the mum practice spinning on hoops as if getting used to anti-gravity to a soundtrack of spacey, bleepy music is particularly good fun. But a framing device – that a dog has broken into the theatre and is being hunted down by an over-zealous usher with a bazooka – is needlessly confusing, something you suspect Hannah and Leventis know, really, as they abandon it halfway through.
More fundamentally, I also wondered if the astronaut’s commitment to her voyage was quite as noble as presented – ‘follow your dreams’ is all well and good, but it seems a bit harsh when those dreams involve abandoning a little kid (that it might be necessary for the planet/human race isn’t very clearly conveyed).
But the production is whizzy fun, with plenty of whimsical invention. Verity Quinn’s set – a bit retro, a bit futuristic – offers scaffolding to hang off, spinning rocket toys, twinkling lights, and UV constellations that make the whole theatre feel part of a big night sky. If the wonder at how we’re all really stardust can verge on twee, the design helps it twinkle, as does the music – sequences where they ring out melody on bells are somehow the perfect sonic equivalent for sky-gazing, a tinkling music of the spheres.
And did I mention the dog?