Peggy and the Spaceman

Joyce Branagh
24:7 Theatre Festival
Sacha's Hotel, Manchester

Peggy and the Spaceman publicity image

Joyce Branagh has a long CV as a theatre director and she entered into the world of the writer-director with last year's 24:7 production Sheepish. This year her play Peggy and the Spaceman has been chosen as the festival's first ever family show, running at 3:30pm each day.

The play takes us back fifty years to July 1961 when Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin visited Manchester just three months after he had become the first human being to fly into space. Teacher Mr Taylor teaches his class about Gagarin, then Peggy's father tells her that the Russian is visiting the factory where he works. This, combined with some racist bullying from mean Janine (Peggy is mixed-race), persuades Peggy to skip school and take her toy dog with her into town to see the famous man. However she falls and hits her head, and then is looked after by a man with a funny accent who takes her on a flight into space. Was this Gagarin? Or did she dream it all?

This is a lovely, funny piece with lots of educational value about the space race, the early sixties and issues of racism and bullying that altogether, with its imaginative design around a couple of colourful and adaptable wooden boxes, comes across like a pretty good theatre-in-education piece for primary schools, and it would be nice if it found a future in such a role. There is a part later on where it becomes a bit too static and talky, but generally it is lively and interesting for all ages.

There is a wonderful central performance from Saira Choudhry as Peggy, with excellent support from Eve Robertson as all the other females (and the dog) and Luke Walker as all the male characters. The large production team, mostly from regulars at Oldham Coliseum, includes designer Olivia Du Monceau, lighting designer Jane Barrek and original music from Matt Downing.

Peggy and the Spaceman is a great piece for children with sufficient entertainment value for adults to keep their parents amused as well.

Running to 29 July 2011

Reviewer: David Chadderton