Director and Writer: Donald Craigie
An odyssey of scale and perspective, Donald Craigie’s one-man show tells the remarkable story of Enos, a chimpanzee selected for space flight in 1961.
Filmed in a cramped attic space, Craigie is surrounded by cardboard boxes. We learn that these are his set and props. Craigie directs our attention to a record player, and plays some vinyl. The show uses 1960’s music throughout to evoke a sense of time and place. Travelling Light (an early Cliff Richard) intersects with NASA control-room audio, running checks on the Mercury Atlas launch that will take Enos into space.
Craigie jives to Chuck Berry’s Johnny Be Goode as his ‘cardboard’ television springs to life, showing early space archival footage. There is a handmade, home movie quality to Enos and Craigie utilises what is around him – a tiny cardboard rocket, a globe drawn on the attic door. As we countdown to the space flight, Craigie features interviews where people have been asked about their impressions of what Enos would have experienced, and what they would take with them, or indeed leave behind, if they travelled into space. The comments range from the comical (a banana would be a must in Enos’ suitcase) to wider reflections on our place in the universe.
Craigie’s multimedia performance uses technology as well as old-school techniques. The deceptively simple story-telling is underpinned by a sophistication that considers the emotional (and literal) gravity defining space travel. Craigie uses exposition to describe the extraordinary feat of Enos’ flight: the shuttle circles the Earth at a giddying 17,000 mph. Craigie wittily describes orbital mechanics as “falling, but missing the Earth on your way down”. Enos strikes an important balance between sound and silence: Craigie taps into nostalgia (he dances, free form, to Paul Anka’s Put Your Head on my Shoulder) and allows room for the narrative to be told without words. The roar of re-entry punctures the soundless void.
This is a 45 minute show, but Enos covers a lot of ground. We see the space mission from multiple viewpoints: the interviewees, the scientific intricacies of flight and in a moment where a porthole filter is placed in front of the camera, we see Earth from Enos’ perspective. Crumpled clothing is arranged to depict the greens, blues and whites of the planet. An outline of Africa poignantly appears. The camera then pulls out of the reverie, and into the mechanics of how the image was created. It is all built on imagination, ours and Craigie’s, but no less affecting.
There has been a move away from digital work, post-pandemic, but Donald Craigie makes an excellent case for why this medium should continue to be explored and developed. On a larger stage, much of the intimate feel of Enos would be lost. It is the detail, both of being held in a delicate, hand-crafted world, and being asked to consider ourselves in a vast, indifferent universe, that makes Enos such a special experience. This is theatre told within physical limits, but without existential boundaries.
Available here until 13 November 2022