The Sirens of Titan

Kurt Vonnegut, adapted by Simon Starlin
London Bubble Theatre
Southwark Park and touring
(2010)

Production photo

Vonnegut's science fiction novel is set a couple of hundred years into the future and recounts the adventures of Malachi Constant (Eric MacLennon), the richest man in America who is spirited around the solar system under the control, it seems, of wealthy space explorer Winston Rumford (Greg Page). He is abducted from Earth to Mars, where brains are scraped out to create an army to invade Earth, finds himself on Mercury, then back to earth before a Rumford-controlled Church of God the Utterly Indifferent packs him off to Titan (which is one of the moons of Saturn).

This complicated time and space hopping story is probably best taken bit by bit as it comes along and that is exactly what the version does as its promenade production moves from site to site in a London park. London Bubble has lost 60% of its funding and they do things on a very tight budget but director Jonathan Petherbridge and designer Pip Nash have long been expert at achieving effective theatre with the simplest means. They, working with a team of actors who are skilled at engaging their audience, simply make everyone complicit in an imaginative journey. That's not to say there aren't a couple of really lovely settings: a tree swathed in blue cloth and shimmering blue creatures called harmoniums represent the planet Mars and when we arrive on Titan there is an arc of fire, but Bubble specialise in making the audience part of things.

Rumford and his dog Kazak, who space travel through a phenomenon known as a chrono-synclastic infundibulum (no, don't ask!) appear before us through a whole series of different 'manifestations'. The first of these is achieved by the simplest form of magic - asking the audience to shut their eyes and then open them slowly after a count of five. 'No! Some of you haven't got your eyes shut. We'll start again' may be a bit of a cliché: but it works! Thereafter at each new manifestation a different member of the cast, who throughout jointly act as narrators explaining everything to the audience, introduces this one as their favourite and, behind a token masking of silver globes or waving ribbons, an entry can be made in full view with such effect it generates applause.

On a grey evening, rapidly getting darker and sometimes under trees which made it increasingly difficult to see the actors' faces, the vitality of their performance still held attention and, despite dark clouds, it didn't rain. Not that that would stop them. I remember a time a few years back when at a sudden deluge we all dashed for the refreshment tent and the rest of the show was played out there to everyone's delight.

This is a particularly zany piece but great fun if you go along with it, sucking your goofballs to survive on oxygen-less Mars, carrying your own space ship dangling from a long cane and shouting a marching song along with all the other invaders. There is an underlying critique of a society that manipulates whether by mind control or religion but this is a show to enjoy moment by moment and from which you'll take away your own favourite images: tail wagging Kazak perhaps, Malachi floating on a lilo surrounded by his (imagined) pool and mansion, the distant puppet figures of Malachi and his family as they board a spaceship or (my favourite) Adebayo Bolaji's happy Boaz surrounded by fluttering blue harmoniums attracted by the music of his i-pod.

Tour continues to Oxleas Woods 3rd - 9th August (no show on 5 August), Hilly Fields Park 11th - 14th August 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton