Sci-fi and then some

Ground Control (Rachel Perks and Bridget Balodis)

Theatre Republic, The Loft

September 6 – 10

Despite some of the 20th century’s greatest literature being set in the future, science fiction, sadly, remains sorely underrepresented in the theatre. Thankfully, however, there are shows like “Ground Control”, which offers up a clever and compelling tale for fans of the genre and general theatre-goers alike.

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The story is of the interstellar Artemis mission to Earth 2.0, 100 years into the future, with astronaut Chris (Rachel Perks) as both captain and crew, the operating system she names Tina and her one-time companion pot-plant called Terry. When Chris awakes from cryosleep, she faces the dilemma of whether the mission should fly into the impending black hole singularity (worth it for the data generation alone) or fly around it, adding decades to the journey. It’s an initial narrative that echoes “Interstellar” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but protagonist Chris is used to dilemmas; being sent on the mission as saviour of humanity has come at the cost of leaving behind her new girlfriend in the societal-shattered remnants of Earth (1.0). And like the Major Tom in her ‘Space Oddity’ song to pass the time, she must deal with having so publically ‘made the grade’ while self-searching for worth.

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At only 65 minutes running time there is little room for lag in its consideration of big ideas such the possibilities and limitations of artificial intelligence. In latter parts, particularly, however, its feminist themes overwhelm a narrative that is on its own perfectly engaging, especially as the protagonist is faced with interaction and conversation with manifestation of herself. Emily Tomlins is powerful in her performance of the Chris’ other self of sorts, however, the night belongs to Perks who brings all sorts of layers to the role of female astronaut in a traditionally male-dominated genre.

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The pod of a stage in which the action takes place is appropriately claustrophobic in feel, despite its often stark whiteness and minimalist aesthetic. In combination with Amelia Lever-Davidson’s lighting, it is creates an authentic world into which to take audiences, even more impressive when stripped away in the final scenes to reveal its relative simplicity. It is likewise only in its conclusion, that the its foreshadowing is appreciated when Chris’ brief Bowie moment is realised in the narrative.

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“Part science experiment, part love story, and a lot of queer feminist Sci-Fi”, is how “Ground Control” markets itself, which is an entirely apt description for a show that sets up but then subverts audience expectations. In doing so, the work is not only engaging entertainment, but offers opportunity for audience reflection on all range of issues, from violence to long-distance relationships and particular consideration of if we have perhaps already reached the point of no return.

Photos c/o – Sarah Walker

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