It’s never quite clear what Ren does to her friend Jordan, but it’s something for which she is both desperate and reluctant to apologise, and so she decides to stow away on the space vessel Jordan is captaining. At the play’s opening, this vessel is lost in deep space, and Ren – a redheaded teen who is literally out of her depth – is the only conscious human onboard.
The other crew members are in ‘stasis’ (read: on life support) after a mysterious accident. Quite why the other astronauts have been so grievously injured is never explained. There are a few loose ends throughout the play that may owe less to deliberate ambiguity than to writer Emily Holyoake’s uncertainty about how to tie them up. But that’s a minor quibble. This play, which chronicles Ren’s years-long attempt to navigate or be navigated towards a safe planet, manages to create characters who talk and behave like we might expect them to. It’s a two-hander, with one actress (the talented and convincing Ceridwen Smith) playing five characters.
This conceit – of the ship’s ‘emergency hologram’ becoming animated by any one of the ‘cognitive scans’ of the four crew members, behaving how and doing what the crew member would – was surely not an easy one to pull off, and Smith deserves most of the credit, as does director Liam Fleming. It’s somehow utterly credible. Naomi Stafford doesn’t have an easy job either, but plays the teenage stowaway with brio. Both actresses use their physicality to strong effect, and Stafford, though not entirely convincing to begin with, grows into the role – much like her character. Owen Pritchard Smith’s sensitive lighting also deserves recognition.
Theatre needs more science fiction. Filmmakers and writers have been proving for decades that the genre does not need a huge budget, and is capable of purveying ideas and themes of real philosophical depth. There are weaknesses in Holyoake’s writing – as well as the aforesaid loose ends, there’s an unnecessary, clunky and somewhat distracting series of allusions to ‘the Union’, some sort of political federation whose narrative purpose is never made clear – but overall, she does a very good job. It isn’t easy to write a 90-minute play that covers various themes from interesting angles with only two characters and is set onboard a spaceship, but Holyoake makes it seem like second nature. She claims to have been raised on Star Trek and Red Dwarf, but at points her play brings to mind films like Persona and Solaris.
Perhaps a general point about science fiction, though: the genre seems to fall into two polarised camps, the ‘bombastic entertainment’ camp and the ‘philosophy and psychology explored with an intense seriousness’ camp. It would be nice if serious sci-fi were to sometimes take itself a little less seriously. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see Stasis. You should. You really should.
Stasis is being staged at the White Bear Theatre until 25 April (exc. Monday 20 April). You can buy tickets here.
Photo credits: Sofi Berenger