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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union
Donmar Theatre Spring 2005

Two cosmonauts orbiting the earth in a years-long mission that has long since been forgotten cannot communicate to remind anyone they're still up there. One is haunted by the memory of a one-night stand years ago, while the other wonders about the daughter he'll never see.

We never find out about the woman, but the daughter is now a pole dancer in London and mistress of a Scottish civil servant, who passes her on to a Norwegian peace negotiator before faking his own suicide.

His wife travels to France, where she meets a retired French rocket scientist - and I haven't even gotten to the Scottish policewoman, the stroke victim, the lesbian or the several surly bartenders.

The various soap opera strands of David Greig's 1999 play stretch out into infinity without ever becoming interesting or involving characters we can care about, and if you return after the interval, you're doing better than about a quarter of the audience (and if you can stay fully awake during it all, you're doing better than I).

Greig does has something to say about the paradox that we are all interrelated but that communication is impossible. Some of the soap opera plot complexity is clearly there to give the sense of interconnectivity, as is the extensive doubling of roles so that, for example, both the disappearing Scotsman and the Frenchman his wife later takes up with are both played by Michael Pennington.

And the play is filled with breakdowns in communication - not just the cosmonauts' radio, but in encounters between characters speaking different languages or simply not listening to each other. But neither point is all that insightful, and they tend to get lost in the meandering lifelessness of the play.

With characters so undeveloped, the role-doubling may also be there to give actors something interesting to do, though the usually reliable Michael Pennington plays Frenchman and Scot so identically that it took me a couple of scenes to figure out that they were separate characters while Brid Brennan is given so little definition to work with as either wife or lesbian that neither becomes real.

The rest of the cast sink with the play's ever-decreasing interestingness. Director Tim Supple is as defeated as everyone else.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Cosmonaut's Last Message - Donmar 2005