Review by Harry Bower
After a smash hit sold-out run at the wonderful VAULT Festival at the start of this year, I F*cked You In My Spaceship was awarded the VAULT Origins Award for Outstanding New Work. Its reward is a three week run at Soho Theatre, a venue known for its backing of outstanding fringe work. Having heard so many good things about this play from lots of those lucky enough to bag a seat in the Vaults, I was delighted to hear of its next run and really excited to see it. Only one question remained; would it be a once in a lifetime trip into outer space, or would I feel like I’d been abducted?
You’ll be glad to hear that this is where the space puns stop. Probably. Because in fact, the show isn’t at all about space travel. Aliens do come into it, though, with plentiful metaphor in the journey of two couples who we follow through key moments. The two couples in question are each going through a big change, taking risks by involving others in their dynamic. Leo (Jonas Moore) and Dan (Max Hyner) are boyfriends who work together, toying with the idea of introducing a third party to the bedroom, to satisfy Leo’s obsessive fetish related to alien abduction. When Al (Felix Kai), a playful and devilish stranger from the internet replies to their advert, things start to become more complicated. That complication is replicated in Anna (Fanta Barrie) and Emily’s (Lucy Spreckley) relationship when they search for a private sperm donor. Robert (Jacob Bukasa) is an unemployed student in need of a place to stay, and so to kill two birds with one stone begins lodging with the couple while also…ahem…providing his seed.
Despite a cast of six each story is told by just two actors at a time, crossing over onstage as the parallels in the narrative of each couple are laid bare. The themes explore are nuanced and balanced. Selfishness, self-destructive behaviour, the restraints of long-term relationships, the dynamics between two people when there is a power shift, each theme is represented from both sides. Leaving two individuals onstage without the distraction of props or physical set exposes those vulnerabilities and sensitivities that we all have and can be heightened in a relationship, and forces the audience to confront these head on – as well as not allowing the cast to hide behind anything in their portrayal of such raw emotion. Joseph Winer’s direction is effective at ensuring the pace of each scene keeps the audience interested, and makes good use of the narrow and restrictive space in Soho’s upstairs space.
The performances are really the crowning glory of this production. Standout Jacob Bukasa as Robert is blessed with a character who has a real 360 degree turnaround and so gets to stretch his range, stealing scenes with outstanding comic timing. For me the other star in this ensemble is Jonas Moore performing as Leo. Played at first as bumbling and nervous with an eye for specifics a ’la Sheldon Cooper, Leo eventually self-destructs and is the architect of his own downfall, and is a character that must be very fun to inhabit. There is a sense of genuine pity for Leo toward the end of the show which is hard to manufacture; Moore is sensitive, shy yet charming, and quietly hilarious, adding to what would be otherwise amusing throwaways with a wide range of facial expressions and eye contact which add a rich depth to his character.
The rest of the cast are strong with chemistry that makes them easy to watch. Lucy Spreckley and Fanta Barrie’s relationship (Anna and Emily) is believable and appropriately frustrating as each’s flaws are revealed one by one leading to a conclusion which is satisfactory for neither, and Max Hyner as Dan is able to portray stoicism in a character clearly restrained by circumstance and embarrassment. That restraint lifts slightly toward the end of the piece and it’s a delight watching an actor demonstrate just how effective body language can be in passive aggressive scenes.
While Spaceship is well written, its pacing in the first third could do with improvement. There’s a fine line to tread between setting up the narrative twists and conclusions while keeping the audience fully engaged on the journey. I found in that opening period it came dangerously close to that line, before being dug out by its cast and some simple but effective scene transitions. Most of the characters are well developed though it feels Anna and Emily’s relationship is a little lopsided. That might be true to life, or it might be that such an exuberant performance by Barrie outweighs the nuances.
Every now and again, a show with a clickbait title comes along and naturally, it makes you want to go and see it for yourself. Sometimes you are left disappointed. This is not one of those times. Witty, funny and somehow relatable, I F*cked You In My Spaceship is brilliant creative storytelling packed full of metaphor and double-meaning but with none of the pretentiousness usually reserved for a play about adult relationships and their complexities. It is engaging and fun to watch without ever taking itself too seriously, a recipe which both entertains and exposes parallels in the lives of its audience. If I had to sum it up in one word, that word would be ‘intelligent’. If I had three words, they would be ‘not enough aliens’. If you were generous and gave me four words, they would be: ‘go book tickets now!’.
I F*cked You In My Spaceship plays at Soho Theatre until 23 July 2023. For more information and tickets go to: https://sohotheatre.com/events/i-fcked-you-in-my-spaceship/
Photos by Lidia Crisafulli