When was the last time you played, like a child, a real game of pretend? I have fond memories of playing in the back yard of the block of flats in Townsville we lived in when I was 7, my cousin Lloyd and I, re-enacting in great detail whatever movie we had just seen at the Saturday morning showings. If it was a Hopalong Cassidy film, he would be Hopalong, riding manfully around on a broom handle, while I would be Gabby Hayes, supporting and subverting his exploits in equal measure. Our dialogue would be remembered snatches from the movie, liberally interspersed with “You must do this” and “You must do that” as we each unconsciously, and unselfconsciously directed each other.
Yesterday I was fortunate to see one of the shows at the Brisbane Powerhouse, in the WTF 2011 festival. (World Theatre Festival in case you were wondering…) The show was “Apollo 13: Mission Control”, courtesy of New Zealand company Hackman, and for an over-age kid like me, it was heaven on earth. Actually it was out of this world, since I’m now on a roll with the cliches.
The auditorium of the Powerhouse Theatre was arranged as a replica of Mission Control, with rows of consoles complete with working switches, screens and lots of flashing lights. The audience was divided into two groups, Console and Media Gallery. Console actually got to sit at the consoles, flip the switches, play with the phones, solve some of the very real technical problems that arose and interact with the performers. We in the Media Gallery got to observe not just the action/re-enactment of the Apollo 13 crisis, but also to observe the audience/players below us.
This is a fabulous theatrical concept, and it is fabulously effectively executed by the members of Hackman. The script is sharp, beautifully paced with the dramatic events unfolding along with the improvised interactions with the audience. I enjoyed the antics of the Mission Control members as they struggled with their personal and professional interactions, the joy and fear of the astronauts (two actors, one audience volunteer) visible on a couple of giant screens, and was totally fascinated by the audience/players and the degree to which they were prepared to engage with the game of pretend. Some immersed themselves completely, some took the micky at any opportunity, others managed the transition between playing the game and being moved by the enormity of the drama itself. It made no difference what age they were, from worldly seven year olds to star-struck parents.
A friend tells me that children nowadays are unimpressed when video of the moon landing is shown to them in school. What a shame. Of course, in 1969 the landing was filmed in black and white, it does look clunky by today’s standards. But I defy anyone to watch the lift-off of a space rocket filmed in close-up as it explodes out of its scaffold and rises majestically up in front of your face on a giant screen, and not feel your heart ascend to the heavens along with it.