Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

An absurdist romp through time and space, Space Mystery: A Mystery in Space follows DCI John Wood (Nathan Galpin) and Security Officer Love Interest (Lizzie Banner) as they navigate the space-underworld of the S.S. Space Cruise dealing with space-gangsters to get to the bottom of the mystery - who killed the mobster Dead Pan. A work-in-progress of their show which will be headed to the Edinburgh Fringe in August, Space Mystery is a parody of all things neo-noir, taking the audience on a cliche and trope-heavy journey of self-awareness and nostalgia. With a decent script and enthusiastic cast, Space Mystery blasted onto the Old Divinity School stage.

A lot of the writing, by Jasper Cresdee-Hyde, Jake Rose, and Jonathan Powell, was well executed and scored big laughs from the audience. The plot was as convoluted and twisty as its source material but if anything this added to the comedy. Space Mystery falls into a particular brand of comedy that Cambridge especially seems to specialise in - absurdist sketches with a hint of surrealism, poking fun at cliches and tropes while struggling to avoid them themselves. Space Mystery is one of the better performances in this genre I’ve seen in a while. The confusing story heightened the absurdism of the comedy, resulting in an hour-long jab at the noir and sci-fi genres that in many ways was also a love letter to pulp-fiction novels.

“Space Mystery successfully navigated the tricky terrain”

I particularly enjoyed the physical comedy of the performance, as the actors threw themselves (sometimes literally) into their roles. Water gun and inflatable fish added to the ridiculousness of the characters and their stories. Often, props can detract from comedies or be a shallow cover for poor writing; however, Space Mystery successfully navigated the tricky terrain. The cast fully embraced the silliness of the show and was able to deliver some of the most ridiculous gags, verbally and physically, to raucous laughter. Only at one point was an actor not quite capable of keeping it together. They were repeatedly sprayed with water and made admirable attempts to keep a stony face. Even when they broke it felt just as though they were joining in the audience’s laughter.

Though there were plenty of good moments, occasionally the script leaned too heavily on overplayed gags. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with old jokes being rehashed in modern comedy, as long as there is a fresh take on the punchline or delivery. An old line may be in tribute to comedians of old, but if it isn’t refreshed the joke ends up stale and unpalatable. In Space Mystery, there was a couple of the classic, “...and don’t call me Shirley” lines, but the polite ‘ha…ha’ from the audience in response says it all - relying on the classics, especially with a younger audience, won’t win the nostalgia points.

“A pretty tight performance that doesn’t drag and knows when its time is up”

The choice for the cast to all adopt American accents was a rogue and risky one. I understand the thought process behind the decision as the accents suited the neo-noir parody and heightened the drama of some of the characters. So while some accents were reasonable and even borderline good, others varied between being quite grating on the ears, to downright unintelligible. My friend and I several times exchanged confused glances when punchlines and plot points were lost in a garbled mess. Perhaps the good accents could be kept, and the production team could accept that English people can also exist in sci-fi stories.

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Review Top shows of the year

Space Mystery was a pretty tight performance that doesn’t drag and knows when its time is up - an underappreciated quality of a good comedy. Both the cast and the audience seemed to be having an equally good time with a great energy that kept things moving. With a little more practice and a reconsideration of the accents, Space Mystery: A Mystery in Space will hopefully thrive at the Fringe when they perform this August, and I look forward to seeing them there.

Space Mystery: A Mystery in Space played at 9:30pm Thu 16th – Sat 18th June 2022 at Main Lecture Theatre, Old Divinity School

It will play at the Edinburgh Fringe at 10:45pm, Fri 5th – Sat 27th August 2022 at theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall