SpaceXPat explores the motivation and aftermath of an astronaut expat called Pat deciding to stay permanently on the International Space Station (spot that pun in the title). This fateful decision is made against the wishes of his recently divorced wife, mission control, and the colleague with whom he was meant to return. It being a live-streamed lockdown play, the audience experiences the story through video calls between the characters over a 28-minute YouTube slot facilitated by The Space UK.

interesting and soulful

The influx of “virtual theatre” over the last six months has prompted a lot of discussion over whether or not these amalgamations of literally phoned-in performances count as theatre, rather than low-budget film. However, in response any naysayers one could easily point to this production. Here the medium of video calls is acknowledged by, and integral to, the story. Moreover, SpaceXPat isn’t heavy on editing or soundtrack or the other bells and whistles which can drown a virtual play, instead simply allowing the actors and writer to do their thing. (I would even argue that the twin-screened skype set-up adds an interesting and innovative dimension of choosing who’s contribution to focus on, and who’s to side with.) The quiet, absorbing experience of watching it is certainly comparable to live theatre, and for this the director and producer, Andy Jordan, should be commended.

The dialogue is interesting and soulful enough to carry the short piece, although I imagine it’s patchiness and unsophistication would be stretched to keep your attention for much longer. The plot itself is similarly treading a difficult line between authentic heart-searching and childlike whimsy, drawing both from the shared trauma of recent events and fictionalised extensions of them. Most of the time the writing seems to be just below the level of carrying you smoothly and imperceptibly with it, rarely rising beyond almost working.

Performing it are a three strong cast, with a scene stealing turn from Daniel Francis, whose charisma manages to overcome the slight one-dimensionality of which everyone is guilty. Having said that, their American accents are solid throughout, and their clarity and commitment isn’t compromised once in spite of digital deliverance, a high-concept storyline and high emotion.

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Reviews by Monica Yell

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The Blurb

Pat is about to become the world’s most isolated human on the International Space Station. The only person who doesn’t see this as a major problem is Pat… A new play written during lockdown about long-range communication - or the lack of it.

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