This new play from Emily Holyoake is a pretty classic piece of sci-fi, but try and pick apart quite why it works so well, and it reveals an emotional core that is rare in the genre.
Ren is a stowaway on a space ship with a shady mission. She emerges from hiding to find the four crew members badly injured and she saves their lives by placing them in suspended animation: the stasis of the title. The action opens a few days later as Ren is trying to piece together the mystery: who sabotaged the ship? The greater mystery for the audience is why Ren stowed away in the first place: what is the bond between her and the female ship’s captain, and why has she come so far to apologise? These two mysteries create the suspense that sustains a 90-minute play with a cast of only two: Naomi Stafford as Ren and Ceridwen Smith as a maintenance ‘Hologram’.
Stafford holds the attention both through the routine of her day, and the long arc of her lonely breakdown. Smith plays a machine on a learning curve, as well as the four other crew members whose personalities are downloaded into her O/S. Both actors give wonderful, bright and precise performances.
The sound design and score from Alex Burnett is also excellent, which helps provide an other-worldly, technological future. But this is a pub theatre production and the sets and costumes are basic. Sci-fi often succeeds on spectacle and stripped of this, Stasis reveals itself as a strong, narrative-led drama. It has features recognisable from films such as Dark Star, 2001, Star Trek, Alien, and even Red Dwarf, with a lonely human locked into a relationship with an Artificial Intelligence, in a future run by a dark profit-driven ‘corporation’. Yet rather than the cold spectacle and the philosophical musings of much sci-fi it is Ren’s love and sacrifice that makes this such a rewarding night.
Encompass Productions at the The White Bear Theatre, written by Emily Holoake and directed by Liam Fleming.
Rating: Four Stars.