Space Girl, a play presented by Hyperloop Theatre at the 2021 Virtual Toronto Fringe Festival, is a show about decision and compassion fatigue. It’s about things that overwhelm us — a sense of our own smallness, a world on fire, an expanding multiplicity of choice in the search for a perfect solution. What if we could simply leave a daunting and damaged planet, instead of having to put the pieces back together? This is a melancholy, oddly beautiful work, with a participatory twist to keep audiences engaged in its philosophy.
One day, the titular Space Girl (Alice Newling) mentally cuts ties with Earth and begins to float upwards, rising into the thermosphere. She drifts there, untethered to material goods or other people, simply being. As others begin to notice what has happened, responses are mixed; some long to join her, while others point out that our connections to others can be just as uplifting as flying in space. Is she an icon, or a problem?
Jean-Michel Cliche’s play uses an enticing Choose Your Own Adventure-type feature for an unusual take on the Fringe viewing experience. Audience members are invited to pause the main video at various points, and then choose their own scene from a video below. Each short scene features a different character who has been affected by Space Girl. There are six scenes and fewer than six viewing slots, so each person’s experience of the play might differ.
Space Girl also offers the viewer the ultimate choice, giving you two options of how the play could end. Who you wind up listening to earlier on might sway your choice, as the points of view are varied. I took the easy way out and watched them in order. Offering us fewer slots than options, and the responsibility of the final decision, helps to simulate the burden of choice at the heart of the play.
While each monologue is predominantly there to reinforce themes rather than to advance the plot, I would suggest watching the Nurse’s monologue at some point to better understand the main character’s motivations. In fact, I would recommend cheating slightly and watching the other options after you’ve cycled through the whole piece once, to experience the full range of sharp, lyrical writing and moving performances.
Newling’s frustration with the planet below is clear, embodying Cliche’s description of “the tectonic plates of a person grinding together.” She expands and contracts with hope and doubt; proclaiming her wish to be “expansive,” she moves towards the camera, but shrinks back when she contemplates being alone. She also has a lovely singing voice – thankfully, in this version of space, everyone can hear you scream (or sing). I was also impressed with the rest of the cast (Sydney Hallett, Armin Panjwani, Esther Soucoup), and their ability to clearly differentiate between the characters in their two monologues apiece.
Though there’s little direct verbal interaction between the characters, the design (Trent Logan) has them constantly in the background of each others’ stories in an appealing way. A mention of eyes introduces horizontal stacks of eyes across the screen; characters mime Space Girl’s list of steps for cutting ties with the world; actors are doubled and dance in every which way and direction like shooting stars.
The starkly black background provides a canvas for tiny lights, or for a rudimentary projection overlaid over an actor’s body that makes her look doll-like. The constant instrumental backing score (Devin Rockwell) is unobtrusive but powerful, designed to elicit emotion in a very filmic way. I felt a little manipulated, but it was very effective at making my heart clench and shudder.
Freedom can be terrifying. If we can do anything, what are we supposed to do? And do any of our choices actually make a difference? As we watch a billionaire brag on the news about a short space flight achieved on the backs of his employees while others starve, Space Girl feels very relevant. It’s for anyone who wonders if the fight is worth it, or if we should just cut and run…or fly.
- Space Girl is playing on-demand at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.
- Purchase a $5 Membership to access the On-Demand programming on the Fringe website, then Pay What You Can to each show as you go, with the suggested price of $13 per show.
- Memberships can be purchased here. View the virtual on-demand show listings here.
- Accessibility notes:
- On-Demand shows: videos are closed captioned, transcripts are available for all audio content, documents are screen-reader friendly, and all digital images are provided with alternative text descriptions. These access supplements have been generated by the company and reviewed by the Festival. They may vary slightly from company to company.
- Fringe Primetime presentations will feature Auto-Transcribed Captioning.
- Content warning: This show is not recommended for persons under 14 years of age, and features mature language and sexual content. The Nurse monologue features descriptions of hospitals and death.
- Read all of Mooney on Theatre’s 2021 Virtual Toronto Fringe Festival coverage here.
Photo provided by company.