Leaving Planet Earth

Catrin Evans and Lewis Hetherington

Grid Iron

Ed Int Climbing

From 10 August 2013 to 24 August 2013

Rating: **

Review by Philip Fisher

Site-specific theatre can be magical when it comes off, taking viewers to places that they could not visit in a fixed theatre space. Grid Iron are specialists and their Decky Does a Bronco is a classic of the genre.

The idea of taking three coachloads of customers to the spectacular Edinburgh International Climbing Arena at Ratho near to the Airport and pretending that they were undergoing an extra-terrestrial experience must have sounded compelling.

Indeed, the highlight is the venue, which is apparently the largest of its type on the world and provides a testament to what could be done by Lottery money before old earth (i.e. ours) lost the plot.

The starting point is a colour-coded band that slips over the left hand and thumb and can flash and buzz, (the latter seemingly at random) when required. This band monitors and protects our wellness.

That is one of a number of newly-coined phrases and words including the jump and the pull, which could both have had more interesting connotations than those designated.

All of this is fine, but the main problem for these travellers is the remarkable amount of tedious inactivity. In 3½ hours from check-in, there cannot be more than around 45 minutes of performance time, plus an introductory film and chat from our guide Robert Jack’s Saad, on the outward bus ride.

This is where our Irish leader Vela, portrayed by Lucianne McEvoy who has already introduced herself in a couple of introductory e-mails, delivers the first of her supposedly inspirational speeches, sounding like a self-confident contemporary politician of the type that one would be loath to vote for.

The most sinister phrase that the wannabe dictator trots out is “Our final frontier has been about conquering the human mind”, which is the kind of post-Communist, Trekkie brainwashing that would instantly be enough to put this critic off the trip to New Earth, had there been any chance of escape.

The drama, such as it is, might appeal to sci-fi nerds but is pretty limp. Probing no distance beneath the surface it shows us various inhabitants of New Earth in their 1970s Star Trek outfits getting nervous about ditching the old version of earth, which is struggling to recover after a seemingly pretty benign WWIII (remember that?)

The action is played out in short scenes, typically involving one or two actors, that pit a committed convert against a colleague who is having doubts and rarely reaches resolution.

By 11:30 when you eventually make a safe landing in pre-WWIII Central Edinburgh, the overwhelming feeling is of exhaustion, with no refreshment in sight on New Earth and an awful amount of time spent standing and walking around.

This is a missed opportunity, as the theory behind Leaving Planet Earth could surely have generated an experience that thrilled and enriched the lives of those of us still committed to life on this planet.