The greatest exploration undertaken by the human race, though no member of that species accompanied them into space, the Voyager probes were launched in the summer of 1977 to take advantage of a rare positioning of the outer planets that allowed a trajectory which could reach them all, using gravitational slingshots to accelerate and adjust course before the probes slipped out of the solar system into endlessly inflatable space.
The mission celebrated by theatrical performance artist Thaddeus Phillips in the main hall of the Assembly Roxy, the stage begins empty before he enters with a large black carryall bag which with a hum of power begins to expand, the white innards puffing out like The Blob ready to battle Steve McQueen, a white torus which dominates the space and acts as a background for projected images.
A two-man show, Inflatable Space alternates between scenes of lecture, dialogue and transit mediated by footage of the launch and the photographs captured by the Voyager on its long journey into the dark, accompanied by illuminated modelwork soaring into the high vaulted ceiling above the audience, with emphasis given to the famed “golden disc” of greetings and other memories of Earth to be shared with whatever civilisation might find and decipher it.
The disc sent with “an almost naïve curiosity and wonder,” the show is accompanied by excerpts of that record on the soundtrack, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Mozart’s Magic Flute as sung by Edda Moser, but those astonishing expressions of creativity and art are not matched by the show which is frustratingly short on that promised wonder.
The opening scene a series of frustrated telephone calls by a reporter attempting to reach NASA’s offices to discuss the mission, with poor vocal projection and the handset covering his mouth with competing with the noisy fans of the inflatable torus, the dialogue is utterly unintelligible, a failing of basic stagecraft immediately frustrating the audience.
Fortunately, microphones are used for all other scenes, but this does not improve the show, falling somewhere between a scientific lecture and theatrical performance but failing to satisfy as either. Unable to compete with the scope of the superb Voyager documentary The Farthest, Inflatable Space should focus on the intimacy and connection which theatre can achieve but barely even tries.
Attempts at emotion including an indulgent eulogy akin to stoner beat poetry when contact is lost in the year 2027 followed by new-age hippie nonsense about acorns and black holes anchored on the premise of information recovery from the event horizon, theoretically possible in the abstract sense but unachievable in practical terms, any intended message is lost in dead space.
What Clarke would call “a failure of ambition,” Inflatable Space is not so much standing on the shoulders of giants as piggybacking on their achievements, too in love with a central premise which was done better upstairs in the same venue ten years ago in Bouncy Castle Dracula to reach the desired place among the stars.