Ben Pettitt-Wade, Kully Thiarai, Seiriol Davies
National Theatre Wales / Hijinx Unity Festival
Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Mission Control is a collaboration between National Theatre Wales (whose On Bear Ridge has recently been a much-needed success) and Hijinx, the company which specialises in creating thematically ambitious work which foregrounds the talents of learning-disabled and neuro-divergent actors.
Co-created by NTW’s outgoing artistic director Kully Thiarai (who has made her name helming large-scale community projects), Ben Pettitt-Wade (whose past work with Hijinx includes the excellent Meet Fred), and Seiriol Davies (author and performer of cross-dressing historical musical How To Win Against History), Mission Control is an immersive promenade piece, which turns the many chambers in the depths of Cardiff’s iconic Principality Stadium into the site for an eco-themed science-fiction spectacular.
As the audience gathers, we learn from video screens (the video production team is led by Dan McGowan) that we are in a facility owned by the huge Monolith Corporation. It is 2029, the Earth is dying, and we, the one per cent, have been chosen to populate a newly discovered and miraculously human-friendly planet, named Anomaly #1.
Charismatic billionaire Conga Busk (Adam Redmore) is there to wave us off, and we are given coloured wristbands and split into four groups according to our function on the new world (I was a procreator, obviously), given pills to take which will protect us from contagion and led on the circuitous journey to the spacecraft.
It quickly becomes clear, however, that our trip to Anomaly #1 will not be a straightforward one. There are rumblings of discontent from the base’s cleaning and maintenance staff and a rebel named Joanne has attained heroic status. Then there’s Busk’s business partner, Dr Matthews, who seems to have created a striking humanoid version (played by Tesni Kujore) of the Earth’s presiding Artificial Intelligence, Honey.
As we are led from site to site by cast members acting as stewards, we experience many vignettes, some hi-tech, some dystopian. Needless to say, in a world controlled by the Monolith Corporation, things are not what they seem.
While the vision displayed in Mission Control is to be applauded, in practical terms the show is somewhat rough-edged—although I was at the very first performance, which may well have been subject to teething problems. There was much waiting around for stuff to happen (although this is probably authentic in respect of the space travel experience), the narrative didn’t seem to cohere and, too often, the lack of a focal point meant that the audience’s attention span was stretched to the limit.
The repurposing of the venue is impressive on a technical level, however (design is by Buddug James Jones; lighting by Ceri James; sound by Mike Beer), and there are several effective comic performances from members of the 70-plus strong ensemble (beautifully costumed by Angharad Matthews and Rhiannon Matthews), which includes students and graduates of Hijinx’s Academies. And things come together satisfyingly towards the end, as a parodically well-meaning 'green' show-tune paves the way for the shocking climax, taking place on the stadium’s hallowed turf.
For all its sci-fi flourishes, the message of Mission Control is a simple one—there’s only one Earth—and it is delivered with some efficacy. One hopes that, over the show’s short run, the space travellers’ journey becomes slightly smoother.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith