I’m really excited to say that on the 10th and the 12th of February, the play I’ve wrote with Matt Miller and Matilda Neill, Red is the New Blue (or ‘Big Brother in Space’) comes back to Live Theatre. It’ll be directed by Graeme Thompson and will again star the amazing Lewis Matthews as ‘Rhino’, Matilda as Jane and me as Baz. It’s part of a double bill called Live Lab: Elevator which has also got a show called Heartbeats and Algorithms in it as well. Red is the New Blue was performed to sell out audiences in June of last year which made me immensely happy because it was the first play I’ve ever written and the first project I’ve ever collaborated on.
In it, we follow Jane Winter, Baz Richardson and Rhino Sanders, three members of the general public who are on a spaceship on their way to colonise Mars. If this wasn’t a hard enough job in itself, the whole journey is being filmed for a reality TV show as well. The idea is based on the Mars One project, which plans to do this for real in 2026. From the start, we were really interested in how the idea is a meeting point between humanity’s desire for technological advancement and its need to watch horrifically dangerous things on reality TV. As the play goes on, we watch the crew’s relationship disintegrate, partly due to a clash between these ideas of Science vs. What Makes Good Telly.
We started working on it in January 2015 and there wasn’t really time to go into how it was going then. In fact for a good 5 or 6 months I didn’t really have much time for anything else at all. I think, without ever saying it in so many words, we decided that it was going to be ‘hard sci-fi’- in the sense that everything that happens in terms of the plot is scientifically plausible while still being completely fictional.
There’s a problem with this though: It involves a lot of research. Months and months of our time was spent looking up everything from spaceship engineering to terraforming new planets. I don’t think any of us really realised how big of a job this was going to be. Because of all of this, the actual writing of the show was pushed right to the deadline and there was never an opportunity to test it out on an audience first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely proud of what we did with the time we had but there was always going to be bits that needed some work, sections that were working against others.
Having had some time away from it and a good few months to make changes, the first thing that comes to mind is how insignificant the technological stuff seems now. It doesn’t really matter that there is food that astronauts would actually eat in there, or a gravity anchor system for artificial gravity designed by head of The Mars Society Dr Robert Zubrin. They all seem believable but could easily be pure fantasy, the point is that they help build up a clear world for the characters. (Although I would like to stress that they are all entirely scientifically plausible, if for no other reason than a smug sense of self-satisfaction.)
What instead came to the fore was how this, I think, is a really well written interaction between three very different, ordinary people. A lot of audience feedback was about how accessible the show is despite the fact that it’s sci-fi. At times it’s almost a farcical comedy- feeling how much the audience laughed on the opening night in June surprised me because I’d almost lost sight of how absurd the whole situation of the plot is. But what I think really makes me proud of it is that it’s not just a straight up comedy either. Without all the sciencey stuff clouding our heads, we could really focus on this narrative journey, as the sitation gets more and more tense.
What we’ve got now is something that’s much more refined, funny and hard-hitting while still being really accessible for anyone- whether you’re a massive fan of gravity anchor systems or not.
Live Lab: Elevator, 10 Feb + 12th Feb, 7.30pm @ Live Theatre