The Astronauts' Wives Club

Al Smith
National Youth Theatre
Soho Theatre Theatre
(2006)

Publicity photo

We now know what footballers and astronauts have in common: the glamorous but troubled WAGS who nervously group together on the sidelines while their menfolk are idolised by the world.

Al Smith is fast making a name for himself as an intelligent young playwright, with this play representing the 1960s in the National Youth Theatre's Golden Jubilee celebrations playing at the same time as his excellent solo show Radio in Edinburgh.

The young cast members also benefit from a director to die for, One Foot in the Grave's Richard Wilson, who marshals the seven ladies well.

The action takes place while Apollo 15 disappears from earthly contact behind the moon, for rather longer than anticipated. Joining the three partners of the astronauts are four other wives who have been there before, and by the end, the tension has built impressively.

The hostess, played by Becci Whitehead, is the pretty 19 year old dancer, Sandra. She is engaged to pilot Alfred but her presence causes problems since her colleagues are all friends of his former wife.

Sandra is joined in experiencing the highs and lows of extraterrestrial men by Alfred's colleagues' wives, Abi Unwin-Smith's matter-of fact Lurton and religious, highly strung Mary, the latter played by a real comic talent, Sarah Sweeney.

The support (not in the acting sense) is often anything but, as the visiting wives let rip. Alexandra Guelff's Valerie is bitchy but cannot compete with the jealousy of green-dressed Engle (Fiona Sheehan). They are eventually almost literally chased off by the good-hearted Marilyn (Sally Crawshaw) and Betty, an older lush humorously portrayed by Sarah Price, until her secret is revealed and she develops pathos.

This entertaining hour-long drama is played out in front of Michael Ozouf's sub Julian Opie Pop Art set, brightly colourful and complemented by the actresses' fashionably garish costumes.

Al Smith manages to combine Footballer's Wives style comedy drama with some oblique commentary on more significant issues. In particular, he takes some hefty swipes at the intrusive media for whom privacy is as unknown as the dark side of the moon.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher