John TothillJohannes Hjorth

Walking into the Corpus Playroom, we’re greeted by a strange site; the stage is littered with an array of detritus, including a desk, a ladder and a globe. Over the ensuing hour, this wreckage will be used to tell the story of the Space Race, from Sputnik to Armstrong’s famous line: “This is one small step for man…”

Two actors, Saskia Ross and John Tothill, fill every role, ranging from the first cosmonauts and astronauts to Buzz Aldrin, JFK and Nixon. They gave enjoyable performances, albeit with some slightly sketchy Russian and largely inconsistent American accents. Both provided entertaining Nixon impressions, while Tothill was brilliant as JFK, delivering a well-known speech with appropriate conviction.

The overall tone of the play was difficult to characterise. It was very inconsistent, jumping rapidly between moments of humour and severity. I found the tragedy much more absorbing than the comedy; JFK’s assassination was done with a deft touch and the Soviet explosion that killed 180 people launched a brilliant, fourth-wall breaking moment. Some clever use of props, including an instance of audience participation and a couple of party poppers, was fun and engaging. An unexpected tub of spam and a sieve of flour were particularly hilarious too.

The lighting design was done particularly well; spotlights, blackouts and twinkling bare bulbs created an ethereal atmosphere. The sound and music were thoughtful, albeit slightly erratic, with the obligatory Space Oddity alongside some more unusual hits.

This performance was, unfortunately, far from perfect. Multiple technical hiccups detracted from the show itself, especially a sound issue with deafening feedback. Several lines were forgotten or messed up, one of the actors having to remind the other of their line. There were numerous occasions of obvious ad-libbing, which was done well but, somewhat regrettably, heralded many of the biggest laughs of the night.

This is a very sweet play but far from groundbreaking. While claiming to be “explosively reimagined for the Cambridge theatre scene”, there is little obvious ingenuity, much of the humour and wit embedded in the script itself. This production in particular is overtly amateur. Although this gives it a certain charm and allows for a lovable affinity with the actors, the production could nevertheless be much more polished and slick.

All in all, I did enjoy myself. One Small Step was a pleasant and fun distraction from work, something slightly different on the Cambridge theatre scene, lacking over-the-top self-consciousness or pretense. If you’re interested in space or creative theatre, this show is worth a visit. You’ll leave smiling, if not entirely blown away.

Sponsored links