Theatre Review: One Small Step

It’s easy to forget just how epic the Apollo 11 moon landing was: a human achievement probably never to be matched again for generations.

Oxford Playhouse’s two-hander, One Small Step, is a heart-warming reminder of the awe the story can still inspire. Using an attic full of retro 1950s and 1960s junk, two youngsters (Robin Hemmings and Oliver Hollis) break down 12 years into a breakneck 55 minutes.

One Small Step Oxford Playhouse BT Studio. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

A beach ball does for Sputnik 1; a thermos flask command module slowly docks with its screw-on cup lunar lander in midair; a Dubreq Stylophone and a cardboard tube bashed against a filing cabinet prove sufficient instrumentation to perform Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.

David Hastings’s writing is infectiously enthusiastic, and bubbles tangibly in the actors, both of them hilarious and totally joyful performers, who play the Russians as sinister bampots with cushions on their heads and the Nasa team as slightly backwards wise guys.

John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Walter Cronkite convincingly bob in and out of the narrative, and there’s an honest desire to educate here as well as entertain (did you know that the estimated one million people who flocked to watch the Apollo 11 launch is thought to be the biggest gathering of Americans in history?).

It’s kids whose imagination this show is most capable of capturing – when the audience are invited to help count down the launch for Apollo 11 (aka a stack of cardboard boxes), one young lad is shaking with such excitement I wonder if it’s him that’s about to take off. It’s hard to imagine a play fuelled by a more profound and spellbinding sense of sheer wonder.

As published by the Scotsman in August 2008