Photon StarBlaster and the Suicidal Spaceship

Aug 20 2023 | By More

★★★★☆       Seriously creative

C aquila (Venue 21): Mon 14 – Sun 27 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Bonnie and Braw’s Photon StarBlaster and the Suicidal Spaceship at C aquila shows a wonderfully large heart, and boundless imagination, in its exploration of difficult themes.

The title does the show few favours, suggesting a bad-taste science fiction parody. While there is a strong SF element, and it is not without humour, it turns out to be an emotionally complex and serious examination of grief, loss and depression.

John McEwan Whyte in Photon StarBlaster and the Suicidal Spaceship. Pic: Bonnie and Braw

The opening moments feature Junior Galactic Agent Photon StarBlaster (John McEwan Whyte, the writer of the piece), attempting to escape a wide-ranging conspiracy with the help of his trusty spaceship (played, in the grand tradition of anthropomorphic space vehicles, by Debi Pirie, who also directs).

However, the spaceship does not want to play ball, and it becomes clear before very long that StarBlaster exists in the imagination of 12-year-old John Rundle, who is struggling to deal with unbearable loss. McEwan also plays John, with Pirie as his mother.

The switches between the fantastic and realistic are generally well handled on a show with almost no budget, but endlessly inventive staging from Pirie. It is very much a two-hander, with McEwan and Pirie also responsible for the design and lighting with sound (which makes creative use of recorded drumming and electronic bleeps) from Shaun Ludlow.

bags of imagination, skill and drive

Despite the homespun approach, and one of those archetypal Fringe settings – a curtained-off black box theatre in the corner of a room – this is an object lesson in how to create theatre with few concrete resources but bags of imagination, skill and drive.

Of course, it helps if you have got a good original idea and a sound script, which is certainly the case here. While the play is undoubtedly on the short side, it does pack a lot in. McEwan Whyte’s evocation of grief and bereavement is deeply felt and done with such care and intelligence that it becomes heartbreaking.

Debi Pirie in Photon StarBlaster and the Suicidal Spaceship. Pic: Bonnie and Braw

The overtly science fiction scenes are also cleverly done. SF is often used as escapism in the true sense of the word, and it has been known for fans to use it to avoid facing reality at all. This is certainly suggested here – but the space scenes, even though they are poking fun at some of the genre’s more ludicrous tropes, are undoubtedly done with affection.

It is important to stress that this production depicts the effects of suicide on a family and that may be too much for some. However, rest assured that it does it with commendable tact and seriousness. This is shown in the way that – despite offering hope that we can all step back from our own personal black holes – it refuses to trade in triteness or easy answers.

For this, and for the sheer joy in the theatrical process it displays, this production deserves heartfelt praise.

Running time: 40 minutes (no interval)
C aquila, (Studio), Roman Eagle Lodge, 2 Johnston Terrace, EH1 2PW (Venue 21)
Monday 14 – Sunday 27 August 2023
Daily at 1.45 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Instagram: @photonstarblaster

Twitter: @PhotonFringe

Publicity image for Photon StarBlaster and the Suicidal Spaceship. Pic: Bonnie and Braw


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  1. Jane Brown says:

    A deep, meaningful, personal piece of writing performed with courage. Congratulations