There really isn’t enough Sci-fi on the stage. Sci fi or horror. But at least with horror we’re well served every October. So, it’s always great to see shows like Adrift pop up, especially when they offer more than the usual ‘solitary hero stuck alone in space’. It is very obvious that writer Konstancja Kendall is a sci-fi fan, dropping in plenty of little Easter eggs for hardened fans, but never so many that if you don’t spot them it will diminish your enjoyment.
To be fair, Adrift does start by letting us think that Eli (Alfie Ford) is just that, a lone survivor adrift in a small craft, having witnessed the mothership exploding and killing the rest of the crew. It is easy to suspect that he will beat all the odds and survive, although he’s not doing a great job when we first meet him, and it’s clear that a year alone has done its damage. Thankfully there is Ada, the ship’s AI computer, present to try to stop him from either drinking himself to death or drowning in his own self-pity. Because that is surely her purpose, to protect the life of those she was designed to serve and help them find a way home. Everything changes suddenly when they pick up an escape pod, giving Eli hope until he discovers that its occupant, Amanda, is someone he doesn’t really want to meet again; there is history between them that he doesn’t think can be overcome.
The first half of Adrift superbly balances the madness of isolation with ideas of what it is to be human. As Eli and Ada concoct a plan that would allow Eli to have the companionship he craves, whilst giving Ada a chance to experience what it means to be human, there is an edge to proceedings that keeps us guessing about where this is all going to end. But once Amanda enters the picture, it becomes all too obvious that Eli isn’t quite the hero we originally suspected, especially in his attitude to this new arrival.
Things begin to go slightly awry with the play as we progress into the second half. Eli’s misogyny becomes all-consuming, threatening to dominate everything else that has, upto that point, made it such an enjoyable and fascinating watch. His selfishness and toxicity are hammered home in scene after scene, turning things into a shouting match that begins to feel slightly repetitive. It borders on becoming a struggle that we need to get through in order to reach the conclusion, but thankfully it recovers just in time, before it destroys all that was good, taking us nicely to a finale where we learn of the lies and deceit that have led us there.
As well as writing duties, Kendall also delivers a truly incredible performance as the female companion. She finds a good balance between her character’s anger and curiosity. There is some fine attention to detail in Lewis Maines‘ directing, which makes great use of the intimate thrust staging to bring the performers up close with the single row of seating around them. To say we are in touching distance really is the truth here!
I am always excited to see sci-fi on the stage, and when a show like Adrift comes along it is hard not to wonder why there isn’t more. Whilst it isn’t perfect this is a play thar could really fill the sci fi void nicely, with a just little rethink on the second half. And as Kendal’s writing is certainly worth keeping an eye out for, let’s hope this won’t be her only venture into a genre that she clearly knows so well.
Written by: Konstancja Kendall
Directed by: Lewis Maines
Produced by: Hagstone Theatre
Adrift plays at The Space until 7 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.