DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Intergalactic (Petals and Constellations) – Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

Reviewer: Jonathan Cash

Writer: Alison Scurfield

Director: Graeme Thompson

In 2020, Live Theatre responded to the theatre’s closure by setting out to invest in the future of theatre in the region. They did this by awarding 13 bursaries to emerging theatre makers. Intergalactic (Petals and Constellations) is one of the pieces thus created, playing as part of Live’s Elevator Festival to showcase the new work. This the first full-length performance of a play by Alison Scurfield. Both in its storytelling and in the characterisations, it is an impressive debut by any standards.

Sixteen-year-old Johnny is bright, articulate and obsessed, both with the science of the cosmos, and with Professor Brian Cox. Hassan is a subdued, uncommunicative boy, who’s moved from school to school and, in the physics class where the two meet, he seems lazy and uninterested. To their joint dismay, they are put together to work on a presentation about space. Hassan is initially mistrustful and reluctant and Johnny would rather do the presentation alone but, as the two gradually open up to each other about their past, their shared experience of loss and Hassan’s growing curiosity bring them together.

The script is genuinely funny as well as touching. Well-crafted dialogue helps the actors to draw believable, engaging characters and the story is clearly told. Graeme Thompson’s direction is unobtrusive but ensures the emotions ring true and keeps the piece moving slickly along, making the best use of the performance space. Well-designed projections by lighting designer, Drummond Orr, transform the neutral set from night sky to classroom to street and, in a visually stunning scene that approaches performance art, to the sea. Sound design by Dave Flynn is similarly effective, conjuring the sounds of the sea or the static that fills Hassan’s head when he is challenged.

The two actors give heartfelt and skilled performances. Aiden Nord’s Johnny is brave, sensitive, direct and crackling with nervous energy. Tyler Dobbs’ Hassan is believable in his struggle, finding the strength from Johnny’s belief in him to confront the guilt of his past and find a new way to relate to the universe. The actors have an excellent rapport, using the contrast in their characterisation and acting styles to deliver a genuinely enjoyable and life-affirming performance. The company were given a long rehearsal period, which has clearly borne fruit.

This play is accessible, thought-provoking and informative. The audience must have learnt a great deal about black holes, for instance, but the tone is not didactic or educational. First and foremost, it is entertaining. The play definitely deserves to be more widely seen. Perhaps a tour could follow this short run.  Alison Scurfield is clearly a writer to watch out for in the future.

Runs until 19th March 2022

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