by Rona Munro.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 7 May 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 30 April 2.30pm
Captioned 3 May.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 April.
Some propulsion in Soviet space-race story.
Opposite forces are exerted in Rona Munro’s two new plays. In Edinburgh, there’s a strong gravitational sense as Pandas builds a picture out of situations and people who initially appear separate. In Little Eagles, centrifugal forces fling the story of Soviet space design-engineer Sergey Korolyov wide, demonstrating how Stalin’s appeal remained for some, and how the personal and political can be contradictory forces.
Stalin’s gulag brings Korolyov misfortune and good-luck. Imprisoned following false denunciations, he’s severely butted by a rifle, but also selected, almost at random, by a newly-arrived woman doctor for her only dose of life-saving medicine.
After some efficient, if conventional, enactment of half-starved convicts, both script and Roxana Silbert’s production gain temporary impetus as Korolyov’s released to play the tyrant himself with the workers he’s leading towards Russian supremacy in space. His is a different tyranny, demanding workaholic commitment from all around.
He starts work still a prisoner, but is freed, with his team, by Stalin’s eventual successor Krushchev, whose fiery unpredictability is caught by Munro, Silbert and Brian Doherty’s performance. And Darrell D’Silva’s Korolyov heartily captures the energy and commitment of someone who lives only for his work, making any promise to prevent himself being ousted when the state machinery removes Krushchev for his perceived weakness over stationing missiles in Cuba.
The play works best when focusing on Korolyov. But as someone the Russians kept secret for years, it’s unsurprising his ‘Little Eagles’ – the cosmonauts who take his craft into space – share the action. All four, however, remain anonymous as characters, their tough training a distraction from the central story.
The centrifugal tendency to fling the action out towards minor characters means even those closest to Korolyov’s work have little depth, or appear effortful – though Peter Peverley and James Howard clearly contrast enthusiasm as scientists with twitchy awkwardness when asked to denounce their boss.
Only Noma Dumezweni’s Doctor who tries to help an obstinate Korolyov throughout, and Greg Hicks, doubling the General who opposes him and the haunting spirit of a dead prisoner – all recurrent characters and excellently acted – fire the dramatic intensity to take-off point.
Titov: Charles Aitken.
Guard 2/Farmer/Prisoner/Guinea Pig: Joseph Arkley.
Khrushchev: Brian Doherty.
Korolyov: Darrell D’Silva.
Doctor: Noma Dumezweni.
Yuri Gagarin: Dyfan Dwyfor.
Guard 1/Brezhnev: Phillip Edgerley.
Old Man/Geladze: Greg Hicks.
Ivanovsky: James Howard.
Komarov: Ansu Kabia.
Rita/Natasha: Debbie Korley.
Glushko/Steve: John Mackay.
Stalin/Yakov: Sandy Neilson.
Mishin: Peter Peverley.
Leonov: Oliver Ryan.
Anna/Xenia: Hannah Young.
Valya: Samantha Young.
Director: Roxana Silbert.
Designer: Ti Green.
Lighting: Chahine Yavroyan.
Sound/Music: Max Ringham.
Movement: Ayse Tashkiran.
Text/Voice work: Stephen Kemble.
Aerial consultant: Vicki Amedume for Upswing.
Fights: Terry King.
Dramaturg: Jeanie O’Hare.
Assistant director: Helen Leblique.
Assistant lighting: Richard Williamson.
Additional movement: Struan Leslie.