It’s easy to guess what kind of spectacle Mark Murphy was after in the piece which marks his return to stage work after a decade spent producing things like the closing ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Out of This World is nothing if not ambitious – an attempt to transport its audience inside the head of a woman who gradually realises she is in a post-accident coma – and it’s certainly big on the visual spectacle on which large-scale outdoor events thrive.
Unfortunately, what the show does is to take an element of that spectacle, compresses it to fit the context of a theatre space, and then expects it to still hold for the better part of an hour-and-a-half. With hardly any concessions to differences in media and genre, the result is something akin to being made to watch all eighty minutes of cameraphone footage of the world’s greatest fireworks display.
The crucial factor behind why Out of This World fails to move its audience is that its two central characters are so underdeveloped as to be almost nonexistent; not people, but rather the idea of people. Even as we learn about their relationship, we never really get more beyond that these are two people very much in love, who would be utterly devastated to lose each other. And it doesn’t help that the dialogue through which they repeatedly express these two things often reads as if written by a particularly stroppy fifteen-year-old, respectively just before and after experiencing their first heartbreak.
Clearly, this is a piece in which small details like characterisation are intended to play second fiddle to big gestures delivered through cinematic projection, frenetic sound design and showy wirework. But in the face of such catastrophic indifference to its central story, special effects pall extraordinarily quickly. There are some near-magical moments early on – particularly one in which a helicopter rescue is embodied in a single person – but they’re too few and far between to redeem the whole.
It’s a shame, given the vast amounts of care and technical knowhow clearly invested in them, that the results should be so underwhelming. But, in the end, it proved impossible to ignore the constant disconnect between where our emotions were and where they were intended to be. Being filled to the brim with shocks that were never that shocking and tragedies that didn’t quite achieve tragedy, the overall outcome seemed pretty conclusive evidence that, in theatre, more often really does amount to less.
Photo courtesy of Jane Hobson.