In 1975 Carl Sagan, the American astronomer and cosmologist, created the Golden Record; a disc containing the sounds of life and culture on Earth, designed to explain our planet to alien civilisations. Launched into space aboard the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, it’s currently the furthest human-made object from our planet. He created it with NASA’s creative director Ann Druyan, whom he married in 1981.
The show starts with the Interviewer (a simpering, romance-struck Elana Binysh) and the record’s creators. Carl Sagan (played with gusto by Ally Poole) is a charismatic, gung-ho scientist overwhelmed by his own self-importance; Ann Druyan (a loved-up Stephanie Fuller) is the enthusiastic creative who sources the material for the record. But the Interviewer is more interested in their romance than in the prospect of extra-terrestrial life; she prompts them for details of how they met, and how he proposed – details they’re only too happy to provide.
Throughout the interview they’re studied by the Alien, clad in a skin-tight pink body suit, a shimmering satin cloak and a motorcycle helmet, played by the sinuous Madeleine Lewis. The interview is accompanied by a recording of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, placed on a portable record player and operated by the Interviewer.
Sagan is effusive about the Golden Record; the “ultimate mix tape of humanity”, and describes his passion for Druyan in the most slushy astronomical terms: “If I had a star for every time she made me smile I’d have a galaxy in my hands,” his enthuses, adding: “You’re so hot you radiate in the shortest wavelength I have ever encountered”.
When the short interview comes to an end, it immediately starts again. But this time it’s a mashup of the original, with lines overlapping each other and out of sequence. The interview is repeated again and again, becoming increasingly fragmented until it breaks down under the weight of its own pomposity. Eventually, it collapses into binary speech, a string of ones and zeroes.
As Sagan and Druyan engage in a smooching cuddle, joined by the Interviewer, the Alien rises from her seat in the front row and tries desperately to attract their attention; waving, gesticulating, and trying to smash the record; but the trio are so self-absorbed that they fail to notice her.
“What makes you think that anyone wants to know who we are?” queries the Interviewer at one point. And this is at the crux of the show: are Sagan and Druyan reaching out to extra-terrestrial life forms, or simply imposing their own image on the cosmos?
When the Alien finally removes her helmet and catches their attention, her soundless response is more evocative and more communicative than anything Sagan and Druyan have said so far. It’s a moment of theatrical tour de force, which Lewis performs to tremendous effect.
Funny, touching and hugely innovative, Don’t Talk To Strangers is a captivating and entertaining show that sheds light not just on our relationship with the universe, but with ourselves.
Photograph by Hugo Bainbridge
Written by: Devised by the cast
Movement direction by: Christina Fulcher
Produced by: Hot Cousin
Booking until: 1 March 2020
Box Office: 0208 050 9241
Booking Link: https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/dont-talk-to-strangers/