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November 24, 2010 | by  | in Theatre |
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Apollo 13: Mission Control

Oftentimes in my theatre-making life I wonder about how you measure a ‘successful show’. Is it the critical acclaim? The money? Fame? Or a work that connects so well with an audience that it can be successfully remounted?

Whatever the precise criteria are Apollo 13 meet it. Definitely. Since its original season as a STAB show at BATS in 2008 this show has sky-rocketed to success, winning a slew of theatre and design awards and touring successfully about the country. Money, fame and critical acclaim abound.

The key to this show is that it is a GREAT idea. The audience sitting in the ‘consoles’ section of the theatre are cast as Mission Control and they participate in the action as part of the desperate mission to bring the astronauts back to earth. The rest of the audience sit up in the Press Gallery watching the action.

We are seated in the Press Gallery and this is simply inferior to the Consoles. You pay for the choice, of course, but the people in the Consoles have a lot to do, they scribble and shout and play pretend with a glee that reminds me of children (and there are some family groups in attendance, and I think this would be a super fun event for a family). From the Press Gallery you watch this happen. I got a bit bored during the extended sequences of Console involvement. I would suggest that it is worth paying the extra monies for the seat in Mission Control for the full experience.

So the Apollo 13: Mission Control experience is as a game of make believe, made up of space and maths and audience. The actors move neatly between their scripted sequences and the improvised material that forms the greater body of the work. They all perform excellently (my favourite was Jack Shadbolt who plays flight captain Jim Lovell in this Downstage season).

The greatest weakness is that audience participation is a massive part of the show, and the audience are not very good actors. Obviously the play must vary considerably depending on the kind of audience you get. The night we went there was a lot of enthusiasm but not a lot of audibility. The star of the show was a kid called James. He was twelve years old and frickin’ keen on space. He was wearing a “Houston We Have A Problem” T-shirt. This was a good thing.

On the way home the person I was with suggested that Apollo 13 would not be out of place as a feature at the NASA museum or even Disneyland. It could run several times daily. People would love it. Hackman Productions should look into this. Further money, fame and critical acclaim awaits.


Apollo 13: Mission Control
At Downstage, 30 Oct – 18 Dec

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