REVIEW: Space Dragon Adventure

Welcome to the fiftieth contribution to Table Water for Two by your favourite blogger, Jack L. Madden. I thought for this special occasion I’d traverse the fine, fine line between journalistic integrity and a dicey conflict of interest, and so I offer this disclaimer.

For this production, I contributed three things: the suggestion of an immersive, in-the-round-esque staging, to economise; an edit of the script, originally written in 2016 by myself and Imogen Bilinsky; and some aspects of sound design, including effects from the original production, and the new incidental music “O Eternal Balẽgdè”. Beyond that, the new NUDS team directed, produced, and designed this production independently. These are their stories.

This review is based on all three performances of Space Dragon Adventure, taking place on May 17th and 18th at 7:30pm, and on May 19th at 6pm, at Tantrum Studio. Featured image, and media in the body of this article, taken by yours truly on an iPhone X.

Twenty-five million years ago, in the future, Earth just can’t catch a break.

Eons ago, following the apocalypse, mankind jumped planetary ship, and managed to rebuild society on the fertile rock Utopia. Cut to more recent history distant future this is kind of hard to frame linguistically future-history, and a virus has emerged, decimating a decent chunk of the population. With the healthy quarantined, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has sent every cosmonaut on its payroll into the stars to find someone, or something, that could save the human race.

Space Dragon Adventure follows five, and arguably the worst, of these astronauts. First performed in 2016 by the Newcastle University Drama Society, the original production marked the club’s sophomore outing as a bona fide theatre company, and a key comedic precedent for subsequent forays Fair Retail and Friday the 14th.

You can read about the original production’s reactionary influences in my preview piece on Space Dragon Adventure, but let’s talk about NUDS’ new immersive revival. You can also check out Yak Media’s tea on the show, both from 2016, and for this new production.

For the first time since 2015, the NUDS executive committee has fallen into completely new hands, with four fresh office bearers taking the reins, and it is the new vice-president Jessica Leese in the director’s chair.

“I just think it’s amazing that we’ve actually managed to do a revival of one of our own shows,” Leese told Yak Media. “The drama society, which started out from nothing, has actually managed to do one of its original shows again.”

I find that kind of incredible, considering we’ve gone from nothing to here.

Leading the intrepid crew of the HMAS Michelle Obama is Galaxia, the Commander of the ship, played by Abigail Woods. Lover of rules and protocol, Galaxia is the butt of most every joke, both on the ship and beyond, with even aliens giving her a decent rinsing here and there.

However, this is no reflection on Woods, who is anything but pathetic.

Galaxia is a demanding role, requesting of an actress the goofily comedic as well as a wide variety of dramatic emotions, as she grapples with the onus of her responsibility and the disdain of an ungrateful crew. This is also without mentioning the literal breakdown she has in the second scene, and in song no less!

Woods has earned herself an irrefutable place – nay, throne – in the NUDS pantheon of Great, Underrated Singer-Actresses, and I do hope she continues to tread the boards, both on the college theatre circuit, and on more legitimate platforms.

SLAY: Queen of holding out an iPad to someone. Werq.

The only other female crew member is the unruly Celeste. Peak millennial, and never without her phone, Celeste drops roasts and witticisms like she is paid to, and is almost proud at her total lack of contribution to any stage of the mission. Galaxia yearns for friendship and validation, especially from her fellow woman, but Celeste is not going to provide, wearing her superior down with such zingers as “lose some weight and get a husband, Galaxia”.

18-year-old NUDS newcomer Georgia Burston, who portrays Celeste, has developed a wonderful naturalism to her performance, taking a role for which an actor could rest on their laurels and play monochromatically, and instead adding stronger calculation and less reaction to Celeste’s shenanigans. With impulse taken away, Burston’s Celeste is fearsome for now making decidedly more active attempts to subjugate Galaxia, and that’s far scarier than the alternative.

The trio of men that round out the crew – Kyle Norman’s Donald, the pilot; Dylan Delvescovo’s Isaac, the navigator; and Zachery Butler’s Carter, the systems engineer – each play their roles with flair, managing to hold their own in what is perhaps objectively a comedy grounded in femininity.

Norman plays a constantly-bored Donald, as the pilot craves the thrill of warp speed, and liberation from Galaxia’s iron, and protocol-vindicated, fist. He manages to establish himself as the fun one despite his weary disdain, a testament to both Woods and Norman taking steps to infuse their dynamic with this energy, and it is perfectly believable that he could curry more favour with the crew than her.

Delvescovo’s Isaac is perhaps the oddest one out on the ship, being more of a genuine, if not drier, intellect, and seeming to have the best work ethic. Despite the inherent nebbish stylings of the meek geek archetype, the actor truly commands attention when he needs to, especially in his short monologue in the first scene as he conveys his disappointment to Galaxia for lying about the mission. He is a happy medium between the ethical right and wrong that Galaxia and Donald stand for, respectively, and perhaps underrated in contributing to the dynamic in the overall story.

Carter Finky, played by Zachery Butler, offers us a chance to see a more human side of Galaxia, as they flirt coyly, and bond over being the only two crew members that have a Utopian Quirk – that is, a superpower of sorts, which has come as a result of generations being consistently exposed to the environment on Utopia. Galaxia’s premonitions have faded the further they have gotten from their planet, but Carter understands what it’s like to be different, and that is one key aspect in her motivation to keep on keeping on, and see this mission to its end.

After catching a glimpse of the titular Star Dragon, the crew then crash-lands on a mysterious desert planet, and mankind is exposed to alienkind for the very first time. While Isaac fixes the ship, and Donald seeks to seduce an extraterrestial, Galaxia and Celeste take a seat at the bar and meet Gina, the sassy proprietress.

Libby Evans, who plays Gina, is formidable, exuding plenty of maternity and warmth for the role. Evans is capably commanding, especially considering she needs to make announcements to the entire rowdy company during the second scene, and is believably switched on to the goings-on in the entire cantina. As a character, she is more or less paired with the pop star Visma (Meighan Winchester) by the second third of the scene before her untimely abduction, and clearly has gone to great lengths to structure her dynamics carefully.

Winchester’s Visma ploughs jazzily through the ensemble number “Down at the Cantina” with vim (serving alto realness as the key for the song has been taken down nine semitones for this production), and her return as the megalomaniacal queen Nirenka in the second act ensures that this actress gets to demonstrate her range as a performer to the fullest extent.

The last crucial player in this script is Kerhs Gumbo, a forlorn refugee played by Sharna Harris. Kerhs is from the planet dominated by Nirenka, but she managed to escape before sufferring too terribly. Harris plays Kerhs’ damage incredibly, as she reconciles her quest for sanctuary with her desire to do right by her people when the crew asks her to help them retrieve Carter from her homeworld.

The cast is rounded out by comprised of Rebekah Sargeant as Ricky, the role I played in the original production; Jasmine Green as Astrid, a fellow Commander and Galaxia’s rival, and Nirenka’s high priestess; Elle Durrant as The Star Dragon, an ethereal beast beyond human comprehension; and Konstandinos Mitropolous as Celeste’s boyfriend Michael, with each performer also furnishing other scenes as a very intelligent ensemble.

This play is pure sugar, as it breezes past with wacky jokes and great energy from the cast, while also offering just enough meat to take Galaxia’s struggles seriously, such as when Nirenka attempts to gaslight her into joining her cause. You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, and, most important, you’ll feel.

Also, my mother said that the original production “messed with her brain” and she “didn’t know what was happening”, but that, this time, she “liked the singing” and “the cowgirl lady [Evans as Gina]”, so there’s that.

Here‘s a montage that I made from footage that I took from the audience, so you can pretend you were there! Hurray!

Space Dragon Adventure has already taken its final flight, but keep your eyes on the official Facebook page for the Newcastle University Drama Society for information regarding its upcoming annual major theatrical production, The Last Scorpio, as well as a fundraiser performance to be announced soon!

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