Review: Lights! Planets! People! Vault Festival

Maggie is a renowned astronomer giving a talk to young women to inspire them to pursue careers in science. A woman with bipolar disorder, she also suffers from panic attacks and so, worried that she won’t be able to get through the lecture, she visits a therapist in a bid to overcome her anxiety.

Written by Molly Naylor, Lights! Planets! People! is a one-woman show starring Karen Hill. Over the course of an hour the play flashes between therapy sessions, during which Maggie is faced with probing questions from her counsellor; the lecture itself and also her attempts to reconnect with her ex-girlfriend Jane by leaving her a series of voicemails. The audience learns about not only her work and achievements, her attempts to find a habitable planet outside of the solar system; and also more about the break-up of her relationship and a career disaster which continues to haunt her.

Lights! Planets! People! is a touching and innovative play about communication and raises important questions about perceptions of women’s personal lives and careers (there’s a great moment where Maggie pulls her therapist up on presuming everyone wants to find love and settle down) and also mental health, in terms of people how people still feel as though they have to hide mental health illnesses in order to be successful.

Karen Hill puts in a commanding performance as Maggie, and it’s refreshing to see a character like her on stage. She’s intelligent, blunt, independent and has managed to overcome difficulties in her life to become a scientist. She’s also flawed, quick to defend herself and isn’t willing to let her guard down and show her emotions. It isn’t until she’s surprised by a young woman in the lecture that Maggie realises she has to face up to her past regrets and be honest with herself and others.

The narrative devices work well and enable the audience to find out more about Maggie’s past and her character, but there are moments when the transitions between the three aren’t quite as seamless as they could be. The play also uses recorded voices rather than actors for Maggie’s therapist and the young women in the lecture, which does take away some of the emotion, and at times the sound quality is a little crackly (however the rumbling of trains by the Vaults are an effective added bonus accompanying background video footage of rocket launches!) However this doesn’t detract from what is essentially an engaging, moving and human story sure to make us question the world around us.

Photo credit: Dave Guttridge

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