Review: ‘Astrid’ at the ADC

Thomas Hayes 4 November 2021
Image credit: Maria Woodford

I love musicals. I love flapjacks. Hell, I love when musicals and flapjacks meet – so when the crew of the Mara throw a party and find some ‘stale ancient flapjacks’ after spending fifteen years in space, I wished (along with the rest of the audience, I’m sure) that I was up onstage with them. Astrid, an original musical in space by talented duo Georgia Rawlins and Helena Fox, directed by Kitty Beck and produced by Daniel Ellis, was a soaring success and a must-see highlight of Cambridge theatre this term.

En route to the planet Madainn, the crew onboard the spaceship Mara face a difficult decision when an asteroid strike hits: oxygen is leaking, a fire is raging, Mara is bleeding – do they continue to Madainn with the hope that the robots onboard can continue their mission after they have gone, or do they – indeed can they – slingshot back to earth? In limbo between Earth and Madainn, the leading trio of Astrid (Delilah Knight), her mother Ada (Maddie Smith) and the Captain, Hester (Chani Merrell) grapple with loss, family and home.

Knight plays the first child born in space with a convincing innocence, sidestepping the risk of this limiting her character – she fruitfully conveys the deep frustration surrounding her purpose and identity, exemplified in her rousing rendition of ‘An Earth Thing’. Smith commanded audience attention with a superb vocal performance, and expressed the development of her complex relationships with Astrid and Earth with subtlety over the course of the show, all the way up to its final moment. Completing the trio, Merrell possessed both affective and comedic power, leading one of the show’s most emotional moments, ‘Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep’, backed by an outstanding score building to eight-part harmony, and she won the audience over early on in a hilarious conversation with Astrid about the Twilight Saga and… ‘earth things’. In ‘Harbours’ and its reprise, the trio rose to the challenge of Rawlins’ brilliant harmonies and delivered some of the stand-out vocal moments in the musical.

The robot ensemble were essential to the show’s success: their constant presence brought the Mara to life with their sustained physical acting, and Beck’s direction used them excellently to allow for remarkably smooth scene changes and shifts in mood. Turing (Gabriel Jones) and Lovelace (Rosie McLeish), the most advanced of the Commander’s (Dominic Carrington) bionic creations, mastered their comedy moments. Ambitious choreography by Charlotte Dargan and Ffion Godwin was one of the highlights of the show, and shone in ‘Asteroid Strike’ among many other songs. Transportive and perfectly suited for the show’s space theme, Ella Fitt’s striking lighting design, and Cecily Bateman’s costumes, complemented what was perhaps the most outstanding element of the production: the set. Designed by Jonathan Powell and constructed by Lucas Holt, no detail was spared in refashioning a slice of Mara on the ADC stage – whether it was the glowing air vent, interactive scientific equipment or the accurate mathematical workings plastered in chalk on the walls, there was always something to marvel at on the colossal set that included a raised bridge above the forestage and a beautifully painted airlock door.

Astrid is a visual feat to behold, but its originality is what makes it well worth the price of a ticket. Rawlins and Fox’s trio of female leads whose character arcs are independent of their relationships with male characters, is unique in the genre. Fox’s lyrics are revealing of the complexities of her characters’ conflicts and Rawlins, who also conducted the show band, provides a moving score. Despite some slight slips, involving sound in particular, Astrid was a wonderful show to watch and simply should not be missed – it leaves us dwelling on the tantalising prospect of what project Rawlins and Fox will come up with next.

Five stars

Astrid will be running at the ADC until Saturday 6th November with performances at 7:45pm. Tickets can be bought at https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/musical/astrid/