Heaven’s Gate: When the End of Life is Lift Off

Friday 31st January 2020 at Harrogate Theatre (Studio).

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Four young people arrive into a void dressed as something resembling 80s teens playing at Star Trek. Four camp beds and a side table are all they have to help them make the big leap from one realm to another and we’re here to witness the momentous occasion. It’s what they’ve been training for and it’s what they’ve promised themselves and each other – above all, it’s certainly a departure from the run of the mill graduations we’re used to…

Joe Feeney’s creation for Cosmic Collective Theatre is essentially several kinds of very modern complexities bundled up into one semi-comic, semi-tragic studio show. Named Heaven’s Gate, it introduces ideas of a different kind of existence after this one via an odd collection of muddled youngsters who think they’ve found meaning in a greater beyond; where a space ship will deliver them to ‘Heavenly Father’ and contentment. As they await the ‘exit’ point of their human ‘vehicle’ forms, they bicker and preach in turns – there’s certainly a will-they won’t-they tension but Feeney works hard to undercut it all with titters.

Lewes Roberts is pretty brilliant as Brandonodie – once simply Brandon but now with a greater future ahead, he must take a name change nod to complete his shift from bona fide flawed human to sci-fi realm-jumper. Roberts steals the show here with a performance which feels rather in line with the max-kilowatt personality of his character. Brandonodie comes complete with a sense of misplaced authority alongside quite hilarious delusions of grandeur, very much in the vein of those dramatic programme announcers we’d all like to employ to deliver fates to our mortal enemies. Here though, Roberts takes the magic of that booming voice and applies it to his character’s infantile grumblings in comic triumph; a spontaneous half spun web of lies accompanied by grand postures and grandiose delivery has seldom been better deployed.

Anna Soden is Tinaodie, a loveable Baldrick-level imbecile who takes credit for much of the silly humour on offer here. Soden’s role is perhaps the most demanding too in that she must strike a balance between being the endearing twit and the tragic fool who has no knowledge of the wrongs inflicted upon them. She’s a character who forces us into a cycle of laughter and grimaces with impressive swiftness as her many speed-spoken tangents hurtle from the benign to the devastating without so much of a millisecond of recognition from her as author.

Feeney also appears on stage to bring his piece to life as team member Kyleodie – not quite so tragic as Tinaodie and not quite so dazzlingly self-congratulatory as Brandonodie, but he has his moments of comedy and tragedy nevertheless, shining particularly when demonstrating the ‘bro code’ with his man pal or propositioning in the name of going out on a high. Kate Cresswell completes the line up as resident doubting Debbie just to keep our simpler odies on ther toes. Her naysaying has a sarcastic charm just as her initial eagerness has a winning comedy to it. But once she transforms from eager beaver to Doubting Debbie, she introduces a whole new brand of frustrated mum of silly kids comedy – after all, would it really be a triumph of the c*** game if all odies simply beamed up up and away without dispute?

So there’s plenty to engage and entertain in Heaven’s Gate. It doesn’t necessarily cover the end of days genre spectacularly but it’s creative in approach, offers up some great characters and ultimately lands some big ideas for us to chew on. Underlying what is quite clearly a mischievous, farcical story are a plethora of big issues of today. Dress it up in funny folk and brilliantly landed running jokes all you like; when the truth eventually outs, it’s all more than a little sad and even while laughing at the jokes and the comic character quirks, the knowledge of what led to this moment can’t really be shaken. In that respect Feeney has done a very fine job of blending genres and sneaking in some sharp political commentary here – after all, what leads the young astray from the path if not disillusionment with their realities? Worth a punt!

Heaven’s Gate plays Harrogate Theatre until February 1st and you can find tickets here. The show then tours until February 16th 2020 and you can find information here.

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