Tag Archives: Barry McStay

The First


VAULT Festival 2020

The First

The First

Pit – The Vaults

Reviewed – 11th February 2020



“one small step at the VAULT Festival, but it must surely be destined for a giant leap to something much bigger”


You would hardly expect one of the small venues at the VAULT Festival to host an epic, but Barry McStay’s “The First” offers a space odyssey that deserves a universe of stars.

This 60-minute two-hander features two astronauts on the first crewed space mission to Mars hoping to make history. Back home a war of the words breaks out about the Martian expedition, with two writers battling to produce a speech suitable for the US President to praise its success – and another to deliver should it fail.

The play was inspired by the famous speech given by President Nixon when Apollo 11 saw the first men land on the Moon in 1969 and the alternative version which praised the crew’s sacrifice in the event of a fatality – much in the news over the 50th anniversary of the mission last year.

McStay’s rich and heart-stirring script probes a possible future scenario that feels all too real and credible with its clever parallel dramas of the eager astronauts discovering things starting to go wrong with their vessel only days away from touchdown on the Red Planet and two imaginative writers tussling with words of triumph or remorse.

In just an hour the tightly-written play manages to consider heroism, positivity in the face of danger, a depth of human relationships, coping with tragedy and humanity’s innate desire to explore beyond frontiers.

Playing all four roles are Katrina Allen and Daniel Ward, with barely a heartbeat marking the switch from the space travellers to the writers. Multi-role playing is never easy, but the two actors manage it effortlessly.

Allen is the all-American no-nonsense astronaut Rose, who envisages her face being carved on the side of a mountain to commemorate her fame. She gave up a boyfriend in favour of making the trip and Allen captures this personal sacrifice alongside the excitement the character feels at being a pioneer.

Her colleague on-board is the gay black Englishman Simeon, who Ward plays with authority. His wake-up music on the ship is the theme to “2001” (hers is Europe’s “The Final Countdown”) and he wants a school named after him . There are some fabulous moments where the pair discuss the fact that everything they do on Mars will be “the first…” yet both recognise the emotional effects of knowing that no other human beings have ever been so far apart from other humans.

Ward is also the brash and experienced political hack Marcus, forced to work on the two possible scripts with celebrated screenwriter Alisha (Allen), whose successful TV show has just been cancelled by the network.

Allen and Ward work together splendidly throughout, arguing a liberal vs conservative political agenda while developing a grudging respect for one another as the writers and keeping spaceboots solidly on terra firma as the trailblazing astronauts.

Director Emily Jenkins makes every second count, keeping an energetic pace without losing important moments of silence and reflection. Movement director Mikey Brett manages to make the astronauts look weightless, with adroit use of minimal props and set (Delyth Evans’ two tables and two chairs are skilfully utilised on an appropriately claustrophobic traverse stage with a large red disc on one wall representing Mars).

“The First” is one small step at the VAULT Festival, but it must surely be destined for a giant leap to something much bigger with a potential stage or screen production that will be out of this world.


Reviewed by David Guest


VAULT Festival 2020



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Libby’s Eyes – 4 Stars


Libby’s Eyes

The Bunker

Reviewed – 14th June 2018


“overall this is a cohesive, intelligent and exciting production”


The play begins in darkness, because, as our audio describer notes, this will be some people’s experience of the whole show. In a disconcertingly plausible dystopia, the world is divided into people deemed as functioning and non-functioning. Non-functioning people don’t have access to education or healthcare. Functioning people can be denied the support they need. When Libby is given a new robot device called ‘Libby’s Eyes’ to assist her with her sight, the device quickly begins to take on a mind of its own.

Written by Amy Bethan Evans, this is a play about living with a visual impairment, the government’s attitude towards disabilities, and sentient technology. It is also about human relationships, family, and personal autonomy as everyone tries to send Libby’s life in a certain direction. The cast are all strong, both as individuals and in the lovely ensemble scene change moments that document Libby’s journeys to and from work, funny and well-observed snippets of conversation floating around her. Holly Joyce as Ali has some particularly lovely moments, warm and moving in her portrayal of Libby’s mum. Louise Kempton’s audio describer is also wonderfully witty, gradually subsuming the role of the narrator, commenting and interjecting as the play progresses, paralleling Libby’s own device’s trajectory from robot to sentient object. This is a very clever play with constant parallels being drawn between the ideas of functionality and ableism. Georgie Morrell plays the central role of Libby, and she delivers it with an infectious playfulness and determination.

Some moments are a little clumsy, and a more slick performance would push this piece to the next level, but overall this is a cohesive, intelligent and exciting production. The play strikes a wonderful balance between entertaining its audience, clever, playful and moving, whilst still raising awareness about the way that society and political institutions respond to disability.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown



Libby’s Eyes

The Bunker until 7th July


Previously reviewed at this venue
Electra | ★★★★ | March 2018
Devil With the Blue Dress | ★★ | April 2018
Conquest | ★★★★ | May 2018


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