Hotline – Tron Theatre

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Creators: Produced Moon, Meghan Tyler and Nima Séne

If you’re fed up with Zoom Theatre and those dreaded Break Out rooms perhaps the medium of telephone may be more up your street. This interactive experience designed for one is both educational and fantastical speculating on how different the world could be if another person rather than Neil Armstrong were the first to step onto the moon.

It could have been a black man, and how altered the world may have become if Ed Dwight, an astronaut trainee, had been chosen by NASA to go to the moon. The recent film Hidden Figures demonstrates how crucial a team of black women had been in NASA’s efforts to travel through space, and one of these women Katherine Johnson appears too in Hotline. It was her maths that mapped the rocket to the moon.

However, the mix between the silly and the serious rather undermines the message that Tron Theatre, Produced Moon, Meghan Tyler and Nima Séne are trying to impart. One minute facts about the women who were involved in the race to the moon are hurriedly described, while the next minute is formed of absurd adverts for space age clothes. The historical details that the creators have discovered are always in danger in being lost as everything is delivered with heightened chirpiness. An interesting segment about the loneliness of Michael Collins, flying across the dark side of the moon while his crewmates Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounced upon it, is initially moving but then disappointingly it reverts into nonsense. Still, the tone of Hotline does change as the moon is reached.

The phone call takes the form of a journey to the moon, which is rather quaintly gendered as female here. The journey has options though; you can try and go straight to the moon or perhaps you want to make a more circuitous route and stop off at the space station for some cocktails. Choices are made by selecting digits on the phone. An express journey to the moon will take about 35 minutes, while the more leisurely route will last about 55 minutes.

But in these days of texting and emojis, even 35 minutes is a long time to spend on the telephone. It requires perhaps a very different form of attention than watching TV or even listening to the radio. It may take some getting used to. Don’t let the cost of telephone calls put you off as, in a nice and generous touch, all calls are free, and if you have to hang up, when you call again, your place will be remembered meaning that you don’t need to go back to the start. And any phone can be used making the show very accessible.

If the show were more nuanced, this might be a journey that we should all take. Hotline tells some remarkable stories, but some of them get lost in space.

Runs here until 6 March 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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  1. “It could have been a black man, and how altered the world may have become if Ed Dwight, an astronaut trainee, had been chosen by NASA to go to the moon. ” == Dwight was never ‘an astronaut trainee’, he took USAF ‘test pilot’ courses and was assigned to test pilot duties. Never was associated with NASA in any formal way. Dwight as a candidate [never inducted into NASA] also earned honor for his inspirational role, as did full-fledged black astronaut Robert Lawrence picked on full merit a few years later. In my analysis as a space program veteran and spaceflight historian, Dwight had too many too heavy loads to struggle with that had nothing to do with bigotry, since the White House required him to take three day weekends DURING the ‘aerospace research pilot’ training in 1963 for national speaking engagements promoting JFK policies, while the other pilots spent full time on classes, books, and flying [his final class standing was 8th out of 16]. Dwight’s expected White House backing failed to persuade NASA to pick him on public relations grounds [he admits he did not rate high enough on technical merit but blames this on the impact of his White-House-demanded publicity campaigns — a plausible explanation]. The AF put him on their list of nominees for the 1963 selection but after consideration NASA did not even invite him to Houston for final interviews [only the top 2 of his ARPS class were finally selected]. Kennedy’s death the following month obviously had nothing to do with the already-made NASA decision. In addition to his class standing and massive White-House-imposed public relations duties, NASA’s decision may also have been based on physical stature: at 5’03” he was three inches shorter than the minimum design spec for pilot height for the Apollo Lunar Module, requiring he carry a footstool onto any moon-landing mission he might have been assigned to.

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