There is a huge inflatable doughnut in the middle of the stage. It dominates the space. US theatremaker Thaddeus Phillips uses this bespoke blow-up structure as the centrepiece for a show exploring Nasa’s Voyager programme, the universe and our place in it.
Launched in 1977 and running on substantially less computing power than a smartphone, the Voyager probe has travelled through the solar system beaming information back to earth for more than four decades and continues to travel through interstellar space. On board is the famous golden record, a repository of music and images intended to encapsulate humanity.
Phillips’ show, performed with actor Ean Sheehy, as Nasa scientist Steve Howard, takes the form of a meditative essay on human endeavour and the spirit of hope and exploration that characterised the space programme. It’s a slickly staged and visually striking piece, gorgeously lit by Drew Billiau, and poignant too, when it flashes forwards to the time when it’s thought we’ll lose contact with the probe. The doughnut, which we’re told resembles the inflatable habitats designed for the moon, also doubles as a projection screen and a handy visual aid for the concept of cosmic expansion.
There are some moments of ingenuity and wonder in the show – Phillips fashioning a mini Voyager probe out of the contents of a trashcan is a highlight – but, for all that, the different threads and elements don’t quite knit together.