ROCKET TO THE MOON
by Clifford Odets.
Lyttelton Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 21 June 2011.
Runs: 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: by Carole Woddis of performance seen March 30, 2011
Slow-burning study of quiet desperation.
Clifford Odets’ Rocket to the Moon isn’t going to be everybody’s taste. For one thing, it carries, initially, a rancid, almost misogynistic tang about marriage and wives generally. Then it all happens in one room with incidental chat that appears to be going nowhere. Gradually the ear attunes to Odets’ mixture of laconic one-liners and idealistic hopefulness. In the end, Angus Jackson’s patient, glowing production produces an overwhelming emotional punch.
How Odets arrives at this climax is something of a mystery. A the founding fathers of the hugely influential 1930s Group Theatre, Odets wrote a series of Oscar-winning screenplays including None But the Lonely Heart, The Country Girl (1954), The Big Knife (1955) and the explosive Sweet Smell of Success (1957). But Rocket to the Moon stems from an earlier period, 1938, with the US emerging from the Depression only to fall back into drab recession.
In the dental room of Ben Stark (Joseph Millson), business is slow, his life dominated by Keeley Hawes. termagant wife, Belle (an unfortunately underwritten part). Into this frustrated existence however suddenly walk two larger-than-life characters, Mr Prince, Ben’s swaggering father-in-law (Nicholas Woodeson in outstanding form) and Cleo, his dental secretary and wannabe anything other than a dental nurse.
Sounding like a cross between Judy Holliday and a burgeoning Marilyn Monroe – “I can’t read Shakespeare, the print’s too small” – Jessica Raine grabs this part by the horns and wrings it for all its worth for laughter and finally pathos.
Raine made a terrific debut as the troubled daughter in Harper Regan (Cottesloe) and more recently in Earthquakes in London. With Cleo, she achieves a near career-making performance, wonderfully framed by Millson’s shy, reticent Ben, briefly glimpsing with her, a moment of life-changing freedom – the rocket to the moon – before falling back into convention.
A study in quiet desperation and failure, about men, dreams and the promise of a new dawn epitomised by Cleo, Rocket to the Moon throbs with the contradictions and loneliness that Odets catches so achingly and that came from living then in one of the most exciting cities on the planet. Stunning.
Ben Stark: Joseph Millson.
Belle Stark: Keeley Hawes.
Cleo Singer: Jessica Raine.
Phil Cooper: Peter Sullivan.
Mr Prince: Nicholas Woodeson.
Dr Walter Jensen (French): Sebastian Armesto.
Willy Wax: Tim Steed.
Ensemble: Lisa Caruccio Came, Dan Crow, Morgan Deare, Rendah Heywood, Leighton Pugh.
Director: Angus Jackson.
Designer: Anthony Ward.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Sound: John Leonard.
Music: Murray Gold.
Movement: Lizzi Gee.
Dialect coach: Jeannette Nelson.
Company Voice Work: Kate Godfrey.
Fight director: Terry King.
World premiere of Rocket to the Moon by the Group Theatre November 1938 at the Belasco Theatre, New York. This production opened at the Lyttelton theatre on 30 March 2011.