Ever since the genre we know as science fiction emerged some two hundred years ago, the one medium it has yet to conquer is live performance. Drama, opera and even dance occasionally dally with scientific romances but, outside the realm of arena spectaculars, it has yet to become a regular fixture in the theatre. Leaving Planet Earth is a new site-specific work from Grid Iron, staged for this year’s Edinburgh International Festival at the Climbing Arena in an old quarry in Ratho. Unfortunately it illustrates why sci-fi is so difficult to pull off in live performance.
During the coach trip out from the city centre, a ‘guide’ explains to us that we are amongst the last wave of emigrants to travel across the galaxy to New Earth via ‘jump’ technology. Old Earth has become uninhabitable.
For orientation purposes, we are treated to a video interview with Vela, the social architect of New Earth. Upon arrival, the audience are shunted from room to room to witness vignettes illustrating that All Is Not Well in New Earth. The environment is causing psychological instabilities and Vela is getting too big for her boots.
Co-written and co-directed by Catrin Evans and Lewis Hetherington, as a dramatic piece the work is slight and underdeveloped and any dramatic momentum is constantly dissipated by the need to move the audience around the building.
Some elements of the production look cheap and the costumes in particular appear to have been found in a hamper of rejects from the Blake’s 7 wardrobe; there is even a Dayna clone amongst the characters. Just because this is ‘science fiction’ doesn’t mean dressing everyone in cheap lurex and sequined jumpsuits.
The potential of the site is only realised in the last ten minutes when the audience are treated to a son-et-lumiere spectacular in the indoor arena, though anyone with even a passing interest in the genre will find this spectacularly derivative – Solaris hangs heavy over New Earth but with less imagination.
On the plus side, the cast are excellent, particularly Robert Jack, and better than the material deserves but they are hampered by the poverty of the physical elements. The Festival are lucky indeed that this sold out well in advance.