Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon at Original Theatre Online
Our ceaseless fascination with space is down to the fact that there is simply still so much we don’t know. 2020 continues to be plagued with never-ending uncertainty; it’s been hard on every one and has put both the best and worst of human behaviour on display. Like the three protagonists in Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon, though, we are ultimately all in this together.
Most industries are suffering at present but none more so than the Arts, which have always offered a constant form of escapism in trying times. With the pandemic stripping us of theatre as we know it, a glimmer of hope is found in the amount of online content companies are producing: creativity is still thriving.
The story of the failed Apollo 13 mission is familiar – a loss of power left three astronauts stranded in space – and it was memorably given the Hollywood treatment in the 1995 film, starring Tom Hanks. Here we are offered a play that is sensitively loyal to the event, thanks to the use of transcripts and archive material, yet it takes on a far more pertinent dimension in our current the climate.
There are echoes of the aforementioned feature film version in terms of the overall look of the production. The combined talent and vision of co-directors Alastair Whatley and Charlotte Peters, with film director Tristan Shepherd, results in a hugely ambitious and aesthetically impressive play that also manages to retain the intimate quality of theatre. The fact that this was filmed in the homes of the actors because of social distancing is frankly something of a marvel. If this is a sign of where online plays could be headed until the much-awaited return of live theatre, audiences are in safe hands.
Writer Torben Betts provides an intelligent and cleverly structured script, which gives the cast ample material to draw from in order to offer engaging and affecting performances. Christopher Harper, Michael Salami and Tom Chambers display compelling chemistry, which, given they filmed their scenes separately, is testament to their remarkable aptitude as actors.
With numerous close-ups of the cast, we are able to see their emotive facial expressions in a way live theatre cannot allow. Though this is a result of social distancing, the technique succeeds in amping up the tension and allows us to really believe in the characters and what they are facing.
The documentary-style approach, opening with a fictional reunion of astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, adds a touching realism to proceedings. These scenes inter-cut the flashback action throughout, creating a successful balance between the quieter, reflective moments and the more tense scenes. There is also scope for commentary on current issues, and, although this sometimes veers towards over-sentimentality, it somehow works. It’s more than evident that a great deal of thought, attention and passion has been invested here by the cast and creative team.
Thought-provoking, poignant and in many ways thematically reflective of the current isolation with which we are all inflicted, this is ultimately a story of hope and survival. It leaves the audience reassured that a simple sense of humanity can get us through the darkest of experiences.
Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon is available to livestream at Original Theatre Online from 8th October until 31st December 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.