Myra in Space is a dramatic comedy from independent theatre company Baggage Productions, which is dedicated to producing original scripts written by women. It concerns female agency, unfulfilled potential and, possibly, mental illness.
Myra Foreman (Kelly Nash) is a 65-year-old married woman with two grown children, who is at the crossroads. For as long as she can remember, she always wanted to be an astronaut. Brought up by her mother, Myra was a good student who attended an expensive school, but she was advised that her best course in life was to marry the right boy. That was Bruce (Greg Parker), who showed a great interest in her.
So, Myra put aside her career aspirations (she ended up not going to university) to support Bruce. He became a Supreme Court judge who, at the start of the play, is about to receive an honourary doctorate for his contribution to the legal fraternity. Myra had a hard time conceiving, but in 1987 gave birth to a daughter, Vali (Annie Lumsden), and two years later a son, Phillip (Nicholas Jaquinot).
Vali co-hosts a public radio program, but her mother thinks she could do better. Phillip is a lawyer, but he is afraid to tell his father that he hates his job. As for Myra, of late she has been “spaced out” … not always there. It turns out that she has been having imaginary conversations with the first female cosmonaut and the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova (Rama Nicholas).
In 1963, at the age of 26, Tereshkova flew a solo mission, circling the Earth 48 times. Tereshkova became Myra’s hero and touched her soul. Myra even made space suits and played “Space Camp” at home with her kids. At the same time, Myra continued to subjugate her own needs to those of her husband and children. She has perpetually run to another’s beat.
She has lived life by the adage “behind every great man is a great woman”, but she certainly doesn’t feel great. Now, after all these years, her old itch needs scratching again. When Myra hears on her daughter’s radio station that a billionaire is running a competition to select candidates for a mission to Mars, Myra is sold. The conversations with Tereshkova become more frequent as Myra prepares to blast off.
Bridgette Burton has written a telling feminist piece about expectation, anticipation, promise and disappointment, overlaid with mental distress. It also speaks to historic views of men’s and women’s roles. Myra in Space is clever and creative. It is entertaining and engaging, while carrying important messages about personal satisfaction and achievement. The five actors are accomplished in their respective roles, with Annie Lumsden doubling as Myra’s mother and Nicholas Jaquinot also cast as Vali’s radio co-host.
As Myra, Kelly Nash adroitly juggles fantasy and reality. Greg Parker shows vulnerability, with Bruce all at sea when his wife “wigs out”. Annie Lumsden brings an argumentative streak and, later, confusion to daughter Vali. As Myra’s mum, she may be well intentioned, but time poor. Nicholas Jaquinot paints a disgruntled picture as son Phillip and confidence as a shock jock. Rama Nicholas exudes self-belief as the disciplined cosmonaut.
Diversity of sound is an important ingredient in the work. Sound designer Nat Grant has the Midas touch, making each moment count. Richard Vabre’s lighting design adds further heft. Silvia Shao does much with little when it comes to the set and costuming. Props, including a two-seater couch, a wooden lectern and a BBQ are moved around, brought in and taken out, as needed. The space suits, including helmets, are the “look at me” items among the clothing.
My only real concern was the staging. Myra in Space plays in the round, so to speak. Actually, it is more like a square. There are four sets of tiered seats to the north, south, east and west, with the stage area in the middle. That means that when actors have their backs to you, their words are not always crystal clear. The radio sequences take place beside the two technical operators that are seated on one set of the tiered seating. In that case, there is no such sound projection issue.
Directed by Alice Bishop, Myra in Space is poignant, funny and thought provoking. Ninety minutes without interval, it is playing at fortyfivedownstairs until 17th September, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Just a Boy, Standing in Front of a Girl (fortyfivedownstairs) – theatre review
- Love (fortyfivedownstairs) – theatre review
- Hell Ship: The Journey of the Ticonderoga (fortyfivedownstairs) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.