Tom Neenan: The Andromeda Paradox

Following last year’s generally well-received comic homage to the Edwardian Ghost Story (The Haunting of Lopham House), writer and performer Tom Neenan shifts his genre gaze forwards to 1950s British drama and, in particular, the grandfather of television Science Fiction heroes – Professor Bernard Quatermass and his British Experimental Rocket Group. Yes, a few serial numbers have been rubbed off: Neenan’s principal character here is one Professor Bernard Andromeda of the British Rocketry Commission. Yet, as we find our seats, the air is filled with the machine-like rhythm of the Mars movement from Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite – the music which helped transfix British viewers during the initial live broadcasts of The Quatermass Experiment back in 1953.

An incredibly energetic stage performance, with characters clearly defined by voice or posture

Neenan speedily lays down the humorous tone of what’s to come, with our narrator Andromeda repeatedly interrupted at the start of his tale by the final chords of Holst’s music. This proves just the first example of how Neenan recognises, highlights and plays with both certain science fiction clichés and the whole theatrical experience in which they’re presented. In fact, Neenan not only breaks the fourth wall of numerous occasions, but effectively draws some comedy from the way Andromeda 'copes' with how it’s done.

Thankfully, the speedy, metronomic regularity in which the show’s many laughs arrive – either from the characters and situations being described, or the words Neenan/Andromeda uses – feels slightly less strident than with last year’s Lopham House adventure. Not that all of Neenan’s targets are entirely deserving: highlighting the often poor lot of female characters in 1950s science fiction is one thing, but it does rather ignore the extent to which Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale worked against the grain by deliberately giving women serious roles in his own scripts. Still, this might be in part down to Andromeda not just targeting the three 1950s Quatermass serials – or, more accurately, their simplified adaptations by Hammer Films. A top secret organisation which kidnaps Professor Andromeda – the British Alien Intelligence Taskforce – is just the most obvious of Doctor Who references here. Indeed, several elements in Neenan’s tale are arguably nicked straight from just one Doctor Who serial, 1976’s 'The Seeds of Doom'. Meantime, the titular Andromeda Paradox might have some Who fans thinking of a 'Moffat Loop', named after Doctor Who’s current lead writer Steven Moffat.

What Neenan definitely brings to the table here – quite apart from an incredibly energetic stage performance, with characters clearly defined by voice or posture – is a focus on Andromeda’s troubled relationship with his own distant, unloving father, Horatio. At first this feels just like character-background, but he uses it well enough in terms of plot and narrative. What’s less clear, though, is what point Neenan’s trying to make overall – if any – beyond, of course, having some fun at the expense of an now presumed to be old-fashioned world of science fiction heroes and buried alien mysteries. Which is a shame.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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Performances

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The Blurb

When a mysterious, prehistoric artefact is discovered deep beneath London's streets, Professor Bernard Andromeda believes it is evidence of alien technology. To unravel the mystery Andromeda must join forces with a top-secret government organization where no one can be trusted. A brand new comedy sci-fi thriller directed by David Reed (The Penny Dreadfuls). 'Neenan positively shines as a solo artist' **** (Fest). 'A master storyteller' **** (List). 'Hilariously chilling' **** (Metro). 'Pretty much every line is an example of genius' **** (FringeReview.co.uk).

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