‘The Astronaut’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 6, 2016

‘The Astronaut’ is a warm and touching story that was inspired by a Samuel Beckett tale. The play has been developed by WAAPA’s lecturer in movement, Samantha Chester and course co-ordinator, Frances Barbe.

This City of Perth’s Winter Arts Festival, 50-minute production, which has inoffensive adult concepts, can be seen at The Blue Room Theatre, 53 James Street, Northbridge.

The performances start at 8.30 each evening until Saturday 9th July.

 

A mantelshelf clock chimes and the pendulum ticks. In the corner of the 60’s style sitting room is an old TV on a G-plan table, a standard lamp and an old, easy armchair. In the centre of the room is a solid oak dining table, buried in jigsaw pieces. The pieces are in thick layers all over the floor. Not just one jigsaw, but 2-3 dozen 1,000 piece sets – all mixed together.

This unusual set design is the brainchild of Isabel O’Neill. Matthew Osborne’s clever vision and lighting design is combined with the graphic designs of Rhys Morris. The tech operator is Tim Green who works closely with the production manager Amelia Trenaman.

 

       As the clock stops chiming, the elderly recluse, Gwen (Samantha Chester) awakes. She puts down the National Geographic magazine resting on her lap, and picking up a cup of cold tea from the sideboard, she shuffles across to the table. Pushing aside some of the jigsaw pieces, she starts assembling another picture.

     Amongst the pieces she finds a few small, audio tape cassettes. Selecting one, she inserts it into a machine on the table. The audio tapes are memories of significant times of her life; these clippings from TV and radio, are of famous events and musicals – Elvis is her favourite – they give the old dear security from the fast moving dangerous world outside.

     Whilst watching the 1969 July moon landing her life changes.

 

Sam Chester’s slow, physical theatre radiates warmth that immediately has the audience empathising with the old lady – Gwen is someone every one of us knows well, perhaps a mother, a grandma or maiden aunt that some members of our family may think is a little dotty, but is still greatly loved.

Frances Barbe’s direction is blended with dramaturge by Victorian College of Arts’ graduate in dance, Julie-Anne Long. With melodic backing by Sydney based composer, Ekrem Mülayim, the result is an almost dream-like performance from Sam.

This play is unusual in its presentation, almost without dialogue and with many loving recollections from the past. A poignant, loving look at old age.