Theatre Review: Secrets Of Space

"Don't fit in. Stand out." Five significant, special and very important words that speak to the dreamer in all of us. That turn a dream into an endeavour, then a challenge, then discovery on the way to our own personal Atlantis. And dreams and dreamers are at the core and in the life of Cahoots NI's latest production, Secrets Of Space, a flashy, visual, magical but above all thoughtful experience which extends beyond the facts of space and time into the heart of life and living. It goes without saying, but Paul Bosco McEneaney and company have done it again.
Siblings Suni and Mae, played by real life siblings Jolene and Philippa O'Hara, are an inquisitive pair with giant imaginations. Their brief, outlined in a script by McEneaney and Charles Way, Peter McCauley's genuinely lovely compositions, Paula O’Reilly’s choreography, Diana Ennis's set and costumes and a series of lively, colourful screens and props, is to educate and entertain children and adults about, yes, the secrets of space on their journey from their bedroom to beyond the stars. Not a literal one, of course, but an active one, an interpersonal odyssey where the O'Haras not only get under their characters' skins but place ourselves in their shoes.
Everything in Secrets Of Space is either surprising, truthful or both. It is an eye-opener for children but also a treat for nostalgists. Memories of flying paper aeroplanes, constructing our own rockets and finding out about aliens, space stations, planets and gravity all bubble to the surface in a fountain of heartfelt information that never overloads. A remarkable use of David Bowie's Space Oddity transcends the show itself and gives us one of the best theatrical moments of the year.
And, is that enough? Not for Cahoots and the O'Haras, and we are thankful for it. Secrets Of Space takes on a life of its own in presenting the lonely but invaluable point-of-view of a space station alongside the comforting creativity in your first bedroom at home. While there are things to learn, and tears to fall, from seeing the Earth from space and what we must still do to protect it, that is equally true with the irreplaceable bonding of either siblinghood or friendship in the same room over a prolonged period of time. There is a connection between Suni and Mae that also exists between our own family and friends, one that must be amended if not necessarily broken as initiative and imagination requires going our own way. It's what separates the reality of the heart from the reality of the world and universe beyond, in a tale which raises the issue of leaving attachments to media and companions behind to experience whatever "it" is yourself, and finding how hard that is. 
Secrets Of Space is indeed about finding space, but also about finding our own space. It is a crash course for children and a reminder for adults about the pros and cons of dependence and independence from the eyes of two starry-eyed idealists. Why, the play seems to ask, is viewing life and earth from another angle a great unknown? Because we don't know it, or because we don't want to know it? See the show and understand why James Tiberius Kirk preferred the captain's chair to an admiral's desk, because he knew that “while (he was) there, (he could) make a difference”. It is, as my opening quote implied, about standing out, which may be a scary but undoubtedly necessary message for the children in attendance at The MAC. A sort of Paradise Lost, Then Regained for generations past, present and future - a badge that I'm wholeheartedly convinced Secrets Of Space can wear with honour as a symbol of inspiration and inner strength for everyone on this planet.

Simon Fallaha

Secrets Of Space ran at The MAC, Belfast, from Thursday October 3 to Sunday October 13 before going on an Irish Tour, stopping at the Market Place Theatre, Armagh on Thursday October 24 and the Strule Arts Centre, Omagh, on Thursday October 31.

Recent Theatre Reviews