It has been fifty years since humanity safely reached the Moon and returned to Earth, and it might be another fifty more before we reach Mars, but with one crucial difference in that it is likely to be one-way trip, the question “what if I die on Mars?” less of a abstract philosophical point than an eventual certainty.
Written and directed by Clarice Montero and performed by the ensemble of Abigail Whitney, Andrew Atha, Peter Smart, Sophie O’Connor and India Raniolo of London’s Queen Mary University Theatre Company, If I Die On Mars explores the idea from the point of view of those who wish to go, their families and partners, and those who will be making the selections of the mission finalists.
The premise inspired by Bas Lansdorp’s Mars One, now discontinued after being unable to secure funding or the necessary technology for their ambitious project, part of which was to be a sponsored reality television programme whose viewers would vote on the trainees, the play opens on a red-bathed stage and a myriad of overlapping voices, ideas, opinions, impressions, memories and technical data.
Largely abstract and unstructured, the concept of If I Die On Mars is profound but the presentation is haphazard, a series of talking heads drifting about the stage reciting words which are not their own, proud parents, abandoned spouses, lousy poetry, comparisons with Noah’s Ark “except with a rocket, not a boat,” with no defined characters or central drama to carry it forward.
The ambition is there, both in the piece and those whose interviews Montero has quoted (“If I die on Mars, the next generation might die on Venus, then four generations later on Jupiter”) but it is unfocused, the overriding sense one of naïvety rather than comprehension of the task and challenges: “Mars was once like Earth; does that mean Mars is an older version of Earth?”
The criticism of Mars One possibly justified, it nevertheless overwhelms the final part of the show, the bitterness permeating the already thin Martian atmosphere as the play finds itself a victim of gravity and inertia rather than looking up and forward, for in scientific progress every success is preceded by a thousand failures.