STAGE REVIEW: Signals @ Northern Stage, Newcastle (02.10.19) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Eve Cowley and Immie Davies by Benjamin Thapa

For one night only, Northern Stage saw the staging of Signals, a one-act play from the Cosmic Shambles Network and award-winning Footprint Theatre.

This is a show about human connection, space exploration and tea, asking: when you’re alone in the cosmos with only each other for company, what do you do?

Pitched as a dark comedy, the play is entirely staged around two astronomers (the names of which we never hear), and it’s a real character piece, as each woman struggles with boredom, existentialist crises, nightmares, and – ultimately – how she copes when the night they’ve been waiting for arrives. Because this time, after almost three years of watching the stars and living their lives by night, they receive a signal.

And here, we see our two protagonists cope with the hefty potential of the unknown. How each woman copes is unexpected. After all, if science is about anything, it’s about reacting to the unforeseen, embracing the indefinite, and always being ready to start again. And when an answer comes, is each astronomer truly ready to embrace the blind terror of what it all means?

Here, science and art merge in a metaphor about searching. Both astronomers are questing from the very beginning – one for meaning for the human race, and the other for meaning in her own life. Why are they here? Are they wasting their lives? Might they not experience more by going to a bar, getting a regular job, or living by daylight? This constant question dances with the idea that we’re all searching for the same things, even though our means often take very different forms.

Some of what’s actually going on in the play is left ambiguous. You can never be sure of the motivations of the astronomers’ ex-colleague (and now superior), who places strange requests for untimely data and writes off anomalies. It gives the impression that our two protagonists genuinely are trapped in an underground cell, cut off from the powers that control what the public knows and doesn’t know.

Signals has already done well at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, and would be incredible staged in intimate settings, perhaps with the audience sitting around the action like flies on a wall. It would mean that the audience is part of the drama when the power-out occurs, and are there with the astronomers as the endless search out into the emptiness of space begins again.

Signals is a short play worth seeing, and does pose some pretty bit questions within its 50 minute structure. Don’t we all wonder what we’re doing here? What we’re looking for?

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