Reviewed – 14th September 2021
“a slick, subversive, and soulful experience, that brings a perfect blend of comedy and poignancy to the end of the world”
The end of the world has understandably been pretty prevalent subject matter in a lot of film, TV, and theatre lately, and given how much we seem to be experiencing the actual end of days in the real world, seeing it happen on stages and screens can feel laborious. Thankfully, Catching Comets cuts through to deliver an apocalypse story that’s fun, intimate, and earnest.
Catching Comets follows Toby (Alastair Michael), an astronomer who discovers a comet that’s on a collision course with Earth. When the authorities don’t take him seriously, he takes matters into his own hands by morphing into the kind of B-movie action hero that he’s come to idolise from the films he’s watched. It’s intercut with a parallel plotline in which Toby’s blossoming romance with a dancer named Forest Green forces him to confront his own insecurities, and the two threads begin to converge as the end of the world and the end of the relationship coalesce into the same earth-shattering catastrophe.
Piers Black’s script is stellar once the apocalypse plot is in full swing. Hearing Toby narrate his actions as the B-movie hero as if they’re written in a screenplay – “a close up shot of my face” – keeps this half of the play’s tongue firmly in its cheek, and maintains a rollercoaster momentum. It also juxtaposes beautifully with the more poetic description in the other half of the play, where Toby frequently describes minute details about his feelings for Forest Green that give it a deep realness that lets the audience empathise with Toby – so much so that one audience member couldn’t help but audibly ‘aww’ at many of these moments.
Alastair Michael helped this further through an excellent connection to the audience, and an absolute masterclass performance. The duality between the nervous, introverted Toby who’s terrified of being hurt by Forest Green, and the stoic, confident Toby who’s transformed into a knock-off Rambo is fantastic to watch, particularly as these are often snap changes between the two sides. His physicality in the action scenes is also hugely impressive, where – thanks to Chi-San Howard’s movement direction – the relatively cosy Pleasance Theatre is made to feel like a sprawling movie set.
The direction, also by Black, makes full use of every member of the creative team. Natalie Johnson’s set, comprised more of less of a square of washing lines with two balls hanging of them is hugely effective and is used to create a sense of impending doom as the ball representing the comet is moved along the lines closer to the ball representing Earth. Matt Leventhall’s lighting cleverly transports the audience between the different plot threads and creates a powerful cinematic quality where needed. And Mark Harris’ sound design sets the tone perfectly, especially in one climactic moment that brings every element together.
Everyone involved in Catching Comets has brought their absolute A-game and it makes for a slick, subversive, and soulful experience, that brings a perfect blend of comedy and poignancy to the end of the world.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Sophie Giddens
Pleasance Theatre until 19th September
Previously reviewed at this venue this year: