Friday, October 04, 2019

Secrets of Space: an intimate show about the infinity of space (ages 7+, Cahoots NI in The MAC until 13 October + tour)

Cahoots NI latest show keeps their trademark sense of awe and wonder, yet uses it in a much more educational application in Secrets of Space. Essentially two sisters grow up obsessed by the mystery of the planets and stars, and the thrill of spaceflight.

They’re curious explorers, who open up the heavens to reveal that li’l ole Earth is in fact part of this great space around us. The universe does not revolve around humankind … though humans do orbit the Earth once every 92 minutes, and the pair sing along with one such astronaut on the International Space Station at the midpoint of this rather delightful hour-long show.

Younger children (aged 7+) in the audience seemed to be fascinated by the models and the interaction with the animated backdrop. Older children (their parents, aunts, uncles and middle-aged reviewers) marvelled at the intricacy of the props – the smoking chimney near the end is a beautiful touch – and the seemingly trivial way that technology interacts with the physical throughout the show. And the adults definitely enjoy the nods to the science fiction shows of yesteryear.

Real-life sisters Jolene (who has an engineering degree) and Philippa O’Hara (they perform together as The Songbirds) play Suni and Mae. The siblings talk, sing and play, though the songs take a relative back seat to the factoids and astrophysics. Well-rehearsed sequences with complex cues are performed under very controlled lighting, with a little magic added, all the while explaining the concepts of gravity and time-travel in scientifically robust yet repeatable ways.

The child beside me probably wasn’t the only audience member to loudly whisper “how did they do that?” as the show progressed.

Nearly four years ago I interviewed European astronaut Jean-François Clervoy over the phone. The a veteran of three Space Shuttle missions was a guest on the Russian Mir Space Station for a week. and he explained that despite the hundreds of movies available:
“… the most favourite activity of most astronauts is to look out the window, to look at the Earth … The thing I will remember the most from my spaceflights at the end of my life will be the earth seen from space … When you look at the Earth it looks really unique, isolated, finite. When you see it with your own eyes it’s beautiful, you’ve tears in your eyes …”
I’ll confess now to tearing up as he spoke about the view from the space station. He was being reflective rather than bragging when he mentioned “the moon reflecting on the Ganges over Nepal”, adding “I’ve seen that”.

This show manages to make space emotional, which is a phenomenal achievement given Cahoots’ normally softer subjects of magicians and illusionists, penguins and characters from children’s books. I forgot to suppress a little yelp of delight as a dinosaur ‘went’ down into its box. It was only the first of so many lovely moments in the show.

Directed by Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney, who co-wrote the show with Charles Way, Secrets of Space puts the ‘A’ firmly into STEAM without diluting the subject matter’s integrity. And it quietly emphasises the leading roles of women and encourages female participation without making a song and dance out of it.

For me, what makes this production stand out from standard scientific educational fare is the way that Cahoots blend creativity, technology and information together into a seamless package. In front of the black backdrop sit three screens. That’s normally enough to put fear into a reviewer’s pen. But these ones float in mid-air. They enhance rather than distract. (And they’re incredibly high definition when compared with more commonplace LED video walls.)

Secrets of Space is full of wonder and imagination. It’s intimate yet it presents a universe of infinite possibility. It runs in The MAC until Sunday 13 October, before touring through Ennis (Wednesday 16), Dún Laoghaire (Sunday 20), Sligo (Monday 21–Tuesday 22), Armagh (Thursday 24) and Omagh (Thursday 31).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just out of the Sunday matinee show with my 7 and 4 year old boys.
They thought it was brilliant. I thought it was even better.
I'm a science and space geek and the boys bedrooms are full of planets, stars and rockets.
They were shouting out things they recognised including Chris Hadfield's Space Oddity.
The two sisters were fantastic. I noticed they got all the chords right as they sung and played along. No faking here. They covered some really big science ideas in a really relatable way. I thought they might have sneaked Brian May's '39 in at one point.
5 stars seems too few in rating this show.