Jean-Luc Picard and Me

Recent cinematic reboots notwithstanding, there’s arguably at least one generation of television viewers for whom Star Trek’s starship captain of choice is not James Tiberius Kirk, but rather the noble, philosophical Frenchman Jean-Luc Picard, played for seven seasons and four feature films by Sir Patrick Stewart.

This is an entertaining and delightful way to spend an hour.

This is certainly the case for Ellen Waddell, who first started watching – and fell in love with – Star Trek: The Next Generation at the age of seven. There were many reasons for this: it was set in space; some of the men’s costumes were (she later realises) pretty revealing; and at its centre is the fair, strong and commanding presence of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Most importantly, though, as Ellen makes clear from the start, watching Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the few things she was able to share with her dad. For, despite its title, this show isn’t just about how a fictional character from one of the world’s biggest media properties potentially helped shape a woman’s emotional relationships with a succession of “Romulans disguised as men”. There is a third, unseen on screen figure in Ellen’s biographical TED-style talk: her father. He worked away from home a lot when she was young, becoming an almost mythical figure in the process. When he was home, however, she tells us that he was a somewhat authoritarian presence; a man who, she later realised, viewed children as little adults and was annoyed when they didn’t behave accordingly. Watching Star Trek together was the nearest they had to a bonding experience.

This is the emotional heart of Ellen’s story, which is amusingly wrapped up in how she contextualised her parents’ messy divorce through the prism of the Star Trek universe. She explains enough about certain characters for the non-Trek fans in the audience to clearly understand what she’s talking about, without ending up with some kind of kindergarten-level Star Trek ABC. That said, despite promising to do so, she doesn’t actually get around to suggesting why Star Trek: The Next Generation in particular is “the pinnacle of human civilisation”.

Ellen’s story also takes in her time at university, where she admits she was a moderately successful student; then she reflects on her seven years on the road with Los Campesinos! (she played bass guitar) and how, back in Cardiff, she risked meeting up with one of her heroes, the author Neil Gaiman, who as it turns out gave her some very good advice about growing up – advice she’s happy to pass on. Oh, and there’s also something about how she tried to stop being angry at her dad, arguably her most serious moment in the show as she lets the penny drop in her audience’s minds.

This is a well written monologue, though it’s not quite so perfectly performed. Ellen is certainly an engaging enough speaker but you are made aware of the script on the few occasions she stumbles over her words, and – at least on the day of this review – momentarily loses her thread of thought after being distracted by a passing emergency vehicle. On the whole, though, this is an entertaining and delightful way to spend an hour.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

A one-woman autobiographical show charting how Jean-Luc Picard, the noble and often philosophical French Starship captain of the USS Enterprise, navigated a lonely girl through the tricky terrain of her estranged parents' battles, like one navigates a ship through an asteroid belt whilst being attacked by Klingons. Delivered in the style of a PowerPoint-led TED talk, the journey follows an introverted seven-year-old who first bonds with her dad over Star Trek, before she becomes a globe-trotting musician who finds more solace in the words of the Starship captain than in real relationships.