THE FIRST (Vault Festival) ★★★★

The First is a new play from Barry McStay and is directed by Emily Jenkins, both winners of a Show of the Week at Vault Festival 2019.

The First is inspired by the speech Richard Nixon would have given had Apollo 11 failed; a moving piece of writing that was never delivered.

Bill Safire’s words are the starting point for this tale of two astronauts on a mission to Mars and two speech writers on Earth vying to create the speech that the US President will deliver when the mission is complete, however it ends.

Rose and Simeon are up in space, days away from being the first humans to land on Mars. They are more alone and further away than any two humans have ever been and face the prospect of being the most famous people alive. They struggle with the weight of being chosen, wondering if they were the ‘best’ or if they are the ‘tokens’ to take the blame if it all goes wrong. They think about the lives and people they left behind and wonder what the future holds on the red planet.

Marcus is an experienced political hack, well used to writing speeches for the President; he’s been joined by Aisha, a talented screenwriter, to work on two speeches while watching the events in space play out along with the rest of the human race and recognising that one of their speeches will only be heard in the event of a distant tragedy they will need to find the words to bring home.

The play flits between Rose and Simeon and Marcus and Aisha, played by the same two actors, switching skillfully between accents, Earth and Space and drawing us into these relationships built in strange circumstances.

The light and sound design from Lucía Sánchez Roldán and Tingying Dong transform a small room under the railway arches at Waterloo Station; some nice musical choices along with the rumbling trains overhead add to the atmosphere.

This is a nicely written and well performed show exploring an immense global event through four individuals’ experiences in 60 minutes.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Alessandra Davison