Space Junk: A Soviet Musical

I went into this show with the idea that it could help me learn more for work – part of my day job involves educating young people about the Space Race – but then the first man in space was brutally assaulted by a bottle of vodka (no, not wielded as a weapon, an actual bottle with sentience and everything specifically targets him) and I realised that some aspects of astronaut life are better glossed over for the kiddos.

Involving music from David Bowie and Elton John, this musical tells the story of Yuri Gagarin; how he ended up in space, but, more importantly, what happened when he got back. It’s a story of one man’s struggle under Soviet rule and the expectations that he buckles under, leading to an untimely death. It challenges you to rethink your perceptions of Gagarin, and the Space Race in general, and reconsider what makes a legacy: the subject, or the puppeteers behind their success. This show made a great companion to ‘Chaika: First Woman in Space’, which I reviewed earlier in the week, and am thoroughly anticipating a theatre company to now make a hip hop musical about Laika, or a space opera about Alan Shepard, or interpretative dance exhibition relating the experiences of Minnie the Chimp, Ham’s back-up astro-ape. Please, honestly, hire me to write your script.

Despite the somewhat depressing subject matter and the way in which we witness one of Russia’s heroes dissolve into a rather pitiful and strained man, ‘Space Junk’ is extremely entertaining. The show’s humour is undeniably silly and absurd – prostate exam jokes, sexuality jokes, aforementioned vodka bottle situation – and may be one of the most alienating aspects of the show, depending on your personal tastes. Admittedly, I was dreading a barrage of stupidity, worried that the jokes and ‘cobbled together’ aesthetic of the show would hinder it, or make the narrative lazier, however was super relieved to find myself laughing along. The band are great, the live singing is also brilliant, and the facts seem to all be there, creating an altogether fun, quirky show.

I believe that this is down to the pathos which is interspersed between the gags about the band’s drummer is so engaging: the performances of the group are so charismatic, and their dedication to telling the story so clear, that they do not use this type of comedy as a crutch – sometimes strange, funny shows depend too much on being avant-garde to be good, and as such overshoot the mark and just come across as uncomfortable. Instead, Slipshod Theatre have created something hugely entertaining that gets you thinking.

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Zoe Robertson

Literature student at The University of Edinburgh - interested in new writing and voices.

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