It’s 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the Moon and utter the most famous words in history.
But did the population of the Earth watch the Moon landing live or was the whole faked?
Ross McGregor, artistic director of Arrows & Traps Theatre Co. has taken a playful swipe at the historic event with One Giant Leap, his madcap comedy which has just opened at London’s celebrated Jack Studio Theatre.
As a metaphor for the American Dream and shooting for the stars, One Giant Leap makes a point, but as a laugh-out-loud comedy it stumbles on its first footstep.
The Moon landing transfixed millions who watched it and the remarkable achievement suddenly fuelled everyone with ambition. Hell, if America could put a man on the Moon then anything was possible.
Conspiracy theorists would have us believe the whole thing was engineered on a Hollywood backlot and Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins never actually went further than Universal or Warner Brothers Studios.
But is the truth somewhere in-between?
It’s July 1969 and Teddy Price is shooting his budget scifi drama, Moonsaber, a poor man’s version of Star Trek.
It really is awful. The leading man Daniel Shaw is nothing more than eye candy and the aliens are a motley bunch.
Stock monster, Perry Whitlock, is secretly auditioning for musicals, astral babe Linda, now a vivid shade of green thanks to the show’s bungling handyman, Howard, is a single parent struggling to make ends meet.
And hippy chic, Alchamy Jones, is having a crisis of confidence.
It is all shot on a shoestring and is about to be cancelled after one season.
But just when the brown stuff is about to hit the fan, in walks a shady-looking character from the CIA, carrying a briefcase stuffed with cash.
Agent Harris, a man of few words and even fewer expressions, has come hotfoot from Tricky Dicky, President Nixon, with a $2 million proposition.
In four days Apollo 11 will be landing on the Moon and more than 500 million people around the world will be watching live footage of Armstrong taking one small step.
Except. Well, Houston, we have a problem. “I’m here because of the Moon landing. We need you to fake it,” says Harris.
It takes forever for One Giant Leap to get onto the launch pad and then the production veers off course, becoming less about their efforts to hoodwink the world and more about the characters’ problems.
McGregor has come up with an eclectic and oddball bunch of characters and his cast work hard to make this the kookie, zany comedy he hoped for.
But they are let down by a script which isn’t funny; dreary, over-long scenes; and a production which should be at least 30 minutes shorter and a lot tighter.
The show doesn’t really come to life until a surreal musical montage late in the second act. It should be the finale but, oddly, the audience is brought crashing back to earth, with another ten minutes of dialogue.
Christopher Tester’s deadpan, wisecracking, schlock film director, Edward Price, is engaging, even loaded with the baggage of an ex-wife, a car crash career and an uncertain future.
“You’re no Stanley Kubrick,” says the ex, Carol (Charlie Ryall), who still works with him. She’s right. How he’s survived in this cutthroat business is a complete mystery.
Like everyone in this story of ambition and hope, Price desperately needs a shot of confidence and perhaps a $2m payday from the president is just the ticket.
The always reliable Will Pinchin over-eggs it a bit as handyman Howard but he more than makes up for it with an endearing monster scene for the girl he secretly adores.
Daniel Ghezzi, a new face in the Arrows & Traps stable, is a real find as alien weirdo, Perry, who is definitely not of this world and Lucy Ioannou gives one of her best performances to date as the flaky Alchamy who fled small-town life for a shot at stardom.
Vivian Belosky excels in bringing out hidden depths in sexy Linda and Steven Jeram succeeds in finding the shallows of TV hunk Shaw.
And Alex Stevens, mostly hidden behind regulation dark glasses, makes for a memorable CIA agent.
One Giant Leap runs at Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley, until July 27.
One Giant Leap
A wonderful collection of oddballs do their best to get this interstellar comedy off the launchpad but it fails to make that One Giant Leap to the stars.