The First presented by Barry McStay
What is it? New Writing from Barry McStay, The First looks into a future when humans are in spitting distance of landing on Mars.
What is it all about?
The First is a tight two hander that follows astronauts Rose and Simeon on the first space mission to Mars. Katrina Allen and Daniel Ward multirole, also playing Alisha and Marcus, script writers back on Earth, tasked with writing speeches to cover both the success and failure of the mission.
How did it make me feel?
The First is a very contemporary play, that takes on a wide range of issues. The real star of the show for me is the sound and set design. The artistic representation of Mars ( Delyth Evans, Madison Clare) is stunning and pervasive, and the moments underscored by music (Tingying Dong) are heartfelt and apt. Lighting designer Lucía Sánchez Roldán struggles with the top ends of light and dark but in general adds a lot to the design. Unfortunately The First is lacking in some crucial areas, stopping it from landing itself firmly in ‘incredible’ territory. A big setback is the lack of chemistry between the two actors. There seems to be some implied sexual undertones between both the characters of Rose and Simeon and Alisha and Marcus. This does feel tacked on in the writing, but despite that, there is an absence of any sort of spark between the actors, even platonically. Daniel Ward who plays Marcus and Simeon delivers a very strong performance giving tenderness and nuance to the first black, gay man on Mars and a right-wing, trump sypathising, southern speech writer. Katrina Allen is also likeable as Rose and Alisha but the only distinguishable difference between her characterisation is the accent, and that takes some leaning in to.
Barry McStay tries to do a lot with this hour long piece. Asking big questions about legacy, oppression, technology, sex, politics and love. The writing would have be much more effective if McStay focuses on one or two themes. In terms of style, it is nothing that hasn’t been done before. A familiar style of writing is not necessarily a bad thing but the lack of distinct voice only further highlights the issues in the themes and characters. The two speech writers are by far the most interesting pair. It would be easy to watch a full length play about them alone.
McStay is ambitious with The First, but unfortunately it is overworked and lacks that wow-factor.
The First is playing in The Pit, VAULT Festival until the 16th February 2020.
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