Our afternoon starts with a Q&A between British astronaut Tim Peake and show composer and creator Ilan Eshkeri. At times it is less a Q&A and becomes more of an interesting and entertaining chat, with Ilan at one point suddenly remembering he has a sheet of questions. Tim and Ilan talk about the Overview Effect, which is the change an astronaut feels in their very being when they take in the view of Earth from space. There is amusement and schism within the audience as quickfire questions including “Beatles or Stones?” and “Star Trek or Star Wars” get answers; ”Beatles” and ”Star Wars”. Oh well, at least we now know that astronauts are not infallible. 😂
Then we come to Space Station Earth – sixty minutes of music and images designed to take us on the emotional journey that an astronaut goes through. Of the thousands in the Royal Albert Hall, only one man really knew what that was like: the rest of us can only imagine. But maybe for a short time we can imagine a bit better.
For the music, we have horn, string and choir sections from London Metropolitan Orchestra combined with synthesisers and a keytar. In the moments where you expect the music is going to soar, as we watch the rocket blast off, it soars even higher and the lights kick in.
Behind the musicians are three large screens showing unseen footage provided by the European Space Agency. The images are spectacular throughout, and there is some smart use of them too. We see some of the Earth’s cities lit up at night and then these images compare with star clusters taken from deep space telescopes – beautiful.
Together they soundtrack a rocket’s journey upward to its docking with the International Space Station. We see the wonder and joy without gravity, the delight of playing with water bubbles and floating sweets and all the time the music keeps us going; classical melded with a synthesiser for that futuristic, space vibe. In a series where the astronauts enter the Cupola, the viewing dome, for their first view of Earth from the ISS, the images are nothing short of breathtaking.
I did, however, find myself wanting more information at a number of points throughout. Those night cities: maybe we could have had a caption with the name of the city please? The QR code for a programme simply reveals four pages of credits and I do think this was a production that could have really done a nice programme; perhaps a bio of Peake and some words from him on the topics the afternoon aims to cover. This feels like a little bit of a lost opportunity.
We end with the aurora borealis from the Earth and from space. As an encore, Peake returns to the stage, this time with a guitar for a bit of light fun to see us off.
I’m not sure there really could have been a better venue for this than the Royal Albert Hall with its elegance and phenomenal sound. Basically, you have amazing imagery, soaring music, an awesome keytar and an actual astronaut playing guitar, this show does exactly what it sets out to do.
Created by Ilan Eshkeri
In collaboration with the European Space Agency
Space Station Earth is touring Europe throughout 2022. See the show’s website for further details here.