Helen Review - Mars chocolate or planet

Based on an actual but little-known story of Britain's first astronaut, Helen is a fictional play. Helen Sharman, a chemist from Sheffield, responded to an advertisement advertising astronauts with no experience necessary back in 1989. 

Helen Review - Mars chocolate or planet

Astronauts wanted, no experience needed

Performed at VAULT Festival, Helen tells the story of a girl who applied for Project Juno, and two years later she launched into space at the age of 27. There’s little known about Helen in the real world and the play plays on that to imagine how this story might have unfolded. It has six cast members, from parents to sisters to lover and journalists.

Lights are used to break the characters from their repeated freeze frames and we hear snippets of conversations, some of that takes place on the phone. It’s interesting learning this story through phone calls as they're more frequent than when the actors talk face-to-face with each other. 

The plot is told in glimpses of conversations, some short and fast others longer and more emotional. The abruptness and speed work to give the audience context about what happened and what led to her being an astronaut. It gives enough detail, not prolonging them to move on to the next scene which could be months or years from the last scene.

And the phone calls increase when Helen gets accepted into the program. From journalists asking for an interview to an angry sister to parents and an absent lover, the phone calls never end. The lights work at this moment to make it more chaotic. The multiple calls and how they interrupt other phone calls make it seem like Helen is losing track of what is going on. Overwhelmed comes to mind as Helen’s life changes drastically from a chemist working on Mars (the chocolate brand not the plant!) to be selected as the first British astronaut.

There are obstacles Helen faces being a woman but she creates the chance to prove herself. The meteorite simulation was an exciting watch. In a limited space and with only a few things on set, how does one simulate a meteorite training test? Why use the actors of course! The other actors on stage were the meteorite closing in on Helen who tried to push them away. And you can't have a space test without simulating any gravity. The actors held Helen up representing the no gravity she would go through in real space.

The play ends with a phone call. There’s little known about Helen in the real world and the ending matches.

Header Image Credit: Nothing To Perform


Ayah Khan

Ayah Khan Voice Reviewer

Ayah is a physical geography graduate, currently studying international journalism masters. Her main interest is environmental journalism but she wants to deep dive into lifestyle type content and enjoy the lightheartedness that comes with it, especially if said content could be focused on zombies. She spends her free time reading and writing. And can’t wait to explore different forms of content writing!

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