The MAC, Belfast
Producers: Cahoots NI
A theatrical lesson in astrophysics for children. It’s hardly the most inviting of prospects unless, of course, the lesson is delivered by the inventive, knowing hands of Cahoots NI, whose thoughtful, high quality work is regularly feasted upon by audiences, young and not so young, the world over.
The MAC’s big upstairs space is ablaze with stars, with attention focused onto three large screens onstage. The atmosphere is cool, high-tech, not cosy. As Peter J. McCauley’s moody musical soundscape rises, two girls emerge, wearing dungarees and sparkly sneakers. The resemblance between them is striking. Are they twins? Maybe not, but sisters, certainly.
Inspired casting has brought together talented singer-actresses Jolene O’Hara and Philippa O’Hara. Both are Cahoots veterans, here performing as sisters for the first time. They play Suni and Mae, whose untidy shared bedroom offers them an imaginary entrance to the vastness of outer space.
The girls are dreamers. They yearn to journey out into the great blue yonder, venturing beyond far our solar system to sing among the stars and discover the secrets of space. The unknown holds no fears for them and their insatiable curiosity for knowledge of other worlds spreads out into the rapt audience.
In tandem with another successful partnership between director Paul Bosco McEneaney and writer Charles Way, a fearless creative team crafts a galaxy of magical illusions, which unfold against intriguing state-of-the art digital LED technology. With pin sharp timing, Suni and Mae move between the contrasting environments of their comfy family home and the miraculous star-spangled infinity that beckons from way out there.
This aspirational show rejects gender stereotypes in presenting two trendy young girls as the curious adventurers. With endearingly amateurish efforts they even build their own spaceship, launching it into space, with singularly unsuccessful results. Only the scene in which they air play electric guitars against an infectiously rocky anthem sounds a jarring note.
The O’Hara sisters perform as a professional singing act and their instinctive, close-harmony stage partnership is very engaging. But this clever show is not all about catchy songs and pretty girls. Developed in association with leading space industry experts and directly linked into the primary school curriculum, it informs without being didactic, encourages learning without being preachy. To pull it off requires a very sure touch. The Cahoots touch. They did it with the award-winning Danny Carmo’s Mathematical Mysteries and with Secrets of Space they’ve done it again.
Children go out into the dark night, gazing up through the light pollution, filled with a profound sense of wonder, asking searching questions and thirsting for knowledge.