Following a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Festival in 2019, Ransack Theatre’s Catching Comets has finally made it to The Pleasance London for a short run, as part of a small tour (which includes Royal Exchange Theatre and Theatre Clwyd in Mold). Written and directed by Piers Black, this solo show is both a vivid homage to action movies and a love story, two separate storylines that are threaded together. In one thread bravery is muscles, fighting skills, guns and the quite ridiculous tropes featured in Hollywood blockbusters, while in the other thread, bravery is being able to emotionally open up in a relationship. The latter is shown to be much harder and scarier.
Alastair Michael gives wonderful dual performances as “falling in love” Toby and “action hero” Toby, switching between the two with clarity and conviction. As the play progresses it becomes clear that the threads aren’t as separate as they might initially seem, as “falling in love” Toby ponders if there is hope for anyone if John McClane’s wife still divorced him. Piers Black seems to be making a point about how action hero conventions are not just funny, but dangerous and outdated, leaving no room for vulnerability or genuine emotions.
There is a glorious physicality to Michael’s performance during the action hero sequences that adds to the overall hilarity of the piece. Movement director Chi-San Howard has done a magnificent job of bringing to life blockbuster action set pieces in a small space. Natalie Johnson’s clever set design, Matt Leventhall’s dexterous lighting design, and Mark Harris’ evocative sound design all work beautifully together to create a true sense of the shifting landscapes and emotions Toby is navigating.
Combining writing and directing duties, Piers Black has assembled a crack team and directed them with a clarity of vision essential to bringing this complex narrative structure to life. Despite frequent and sudden jumps between story threads, Catching Comets feels like a cohesive piece of storytelling. An honesty sits at the heart of the show, elevating it beyond a simple blockbuster movie pastiche. I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a powerful countdown scene that brings the threads together to land the deeper message of the play.
Counting Comets is running at The Pleasance, London until Sunday 19th September. To find out more or buy tickets, you can go here: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/catching-comets-1#overview