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Reviews: Theatre

First Cosmonaut

First Cosmonaut

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

The peasants huddling round a hand-cart and wooden ladder at the start of Blue Raincoat Theatre Company's biographical study of pioneering Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagaran may not be revolting, but the dressed-down quintet are clearly keeping a self-consciously stern eye on the audience as they gradually troop in to a suitably heroic soundtrack. As it turns out, director of the Sligo-based company Niall Henry has them frame Jocelyn Clarke's forensically researched script as an arch facsimile of a rural Soviet theatre group paying homage to their country-man.

As the three men and two women strike a series of Meyerhold-inspired poses, this develops into a gloriously deadpan device which they sustain throughout the play's full 75 minutes.

Following an opening monologue that appears to give a very Russian nod to David Bowie's Space Oddity, the ensemble's suitably collective retelling charts Gagarin's rise from a little boy with stars in his eyes to iconic status as the first man in space. Only long after he's become an untouchable tool of the Stalinist state does he prematurely fall to earth in, of all things. a plane crash.

In Henry's fluidly playful affair, the hand-cart somehow morphs into a space-ship as Yuri's family and Comrade Kruschev look on. All this is back-dropped by Joe Hunt's ingenious projections, a fast-zooming collage of dazzling archive footage that orbits a time when the exploration of mysterious other worlds mattered and planet Earth was revealed as a place most definitely not at the centre of the universe.

With infinite invention, Blue Raincoat have taken such notions and transformed them into a beguiling piece of theatre for space cadet survivors to gaze upon.

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