Credit: Hannah Elsy Productions Credit: Hannah Elsy Productions

Review: Summer Nights in Space at The Vaults

Written for Everything Theatre

You can always count on the people at Vault Festival to serve up an eclectic programme, and this year they might just have outdone themselves. Example: Summer Nights in Space, which is billed as a ‘new glam rock space musical’. It sounded like a (more) sci-fi version of The Rocky Horror Show, so I was immediately intrigued.

John Spartan is a lonely astronaut who has been stuck on his ship, on a trajectory to God knows where, for the past three years. Without any friends back on Earth and with only the ship’s melancholy on board computer for company, he tries to ward off the encroaching signs of space madness. But then, suddenly, two things happen: he receives a distress signal from a nearby spacecraft, and his own ship is invaded by an alien.

The best thing about Summer Nights in Space is without doubt Matthew Jacobs Morgan’s performance as John. The physicality and facial expressions he brings to the character are very enjoyable. Candice Palladino, playing the alien, has a beautiful singing voice, and Benjamin Victor brings unexpected emotion to the character of the computer. As befits any glam rock musical, there are some pretty catchy tunes as well, courtesy of playwright and composer Henry Carpenter. The band sitting off to the side, dressed in white overalls, sunglasses and antenna headbands, are a lovely, quirky touch.

Unfortunately, the overall execution is pretty lacklustre. The script is poor: character development only comes in occasional, implausible bursts and most jokes don’t raise more than a half-hearted chuckle. The word ‘space’ was sung so frequently that I can only assume Carpenter was afraid the audience would forget where we were supposed to be. The set certainly didn’t do much to remind us of that; I absolutely don’t expect lavish set pieces in a fringe production, but a bit more effort would not have gone amiss in this case. The same goes for the technical side of the production: after starting ten minutes late due to technical difficulties, the projector still beamed images half onto the set rather than the back wall.

Putting on a new musical is always difficult, and I commend Carpenter and company for their efforts. There are some lovely, original bits to be found in Summer Nights in Space, and I can definitely see the campy vibe they were going for. But even, or maybe especially, that low-budget atmosphere requires a lot of time and effort to get right, and this show isn’t there just yet.

This show has now completed its run at The Vaults