In July 1979, pretty much everyone on Earth was aware of Skylab, chiefly because it was threatening to come crashing down on our heads.
The US space station – a technical marvel with great scientific potential when launched in 1973 – prematurely wobbled out of its set orbit. It began hurtling uncontrollably around Earth, drifting inexorably downwards. Luckily no astronauts were on board.
One thing was certain: it was going to crash violently into the planet somewhere, but an embarrassed NASA couldn’t quite pinpoint where or when.
Finally, on July 12, the craft re-entered the atmosphere and came roaring down in a series of fireballs on Western Australia’s south east coast, scattering debris across the Nullarbor and the eastern goldfields and causing a worldwide sensation.
The impact was the biggest news story around the world for days and WA was on the map.
The ferment was just beginning to settle a week later when the State again grabbed world headlines with the collapse of the stage at the Miss Universe pageant in Perth. (Fun fact: Your Starfish correspondent Margot Lang, a Women’s Weekly reporter at the time, was among those who fell on stage.) Some pundits quipped the stage was compromised by tremors from the Skylab impact, but it was really just a case of bad carpentry.
Now a comical version of the Skylab story, written by Melodie Reynolds-Diarra, is being told on stage in a collaboration between the Black Swan and Yirra Yaakin theatre companies at Perth’s State Theatre Centre.
The action kicks off just before the space debris comes raining down near Esperance.
Nev, Jem and the kids have no idea that their simple life in a small house outside of town is about to change radically.
The kids’ uncle Harvey, a frenetic tinfoil-domed, ham-radio enthusiast and conspiracy theorist, senses something is not quite right, spouts loopy ideas to the family, and tries to get his relations to see things from his point of view.
While Jem thinks Harv’s notions are pure mumbo jumbo and urges him to get off his ham radio, the kids, avid fans of the TV series Monkey Magic, like their uncle’s ‘magic’ and even make their own tinfoil hats.
There are strange things between earth and sky, and it seems Harv is one of them. His half-baked fantastical prophecies start to come true after the sonic booms and the spacecraft debris is strewn across the neighbourhood.
He potters about secretively in his ‘lab shed’ with his gizmos and experiments, and mutters, “With our thoughts we make the world.”
Maybe we do.
Reality shifts, madcap theories come true and a pink horse appears out of nowhere. The town’s whites start behaving oddly too, with apologies for taking indigenous folks’ land and stumping up with all the money they owe them.
Meanwhile Jem and Nev, who had been doing it tough raising the tin lids, start to get everything they want, including a full fridge, champagne, wads of cash, a giant diamond ring and even a Vegas chapel Elvis wedding.
But is it all for the better? That is the Aesopian query.
Things get pretty weird and tangled in the second act and it all seems due to NASA’s faulty billion-dollar gadget…and perhaps some fairy dust from the enigmatic Harv.
While the plot-line is structurally slick in the first act, the second is a rather puzzling amalgam of fantasy vignettes and vague disjointed messages. All the same Skylab is still an entertaining Dreaming meets Monkey Magic sci-fi comedy.
Kids and adults should like the spacey madness and have a good chuckle at the characters’ antics.
The play marks the first collaboration between Black Swan and Yirra Yaakin and it works. We hope there are more.
Skylab runs until Sunday, 2 September in the Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA.
The production is then touring to Karratha on Wednesday 5 September, 8.30pm at Red Earth Arts Precinct (REAP) as part of the National Performing Arts Exchange (PAX) conference and to Carnarvon on Saturday 8 September, 8pm at Camel Lane Theatre.
CAST INCLUDES: Laila Bano Rind, Eva Bartlett, Gary Cooper, Liani Dalgetty, Donnathia Gentle, Juliette Laylan, Alan Little, Rayma McGrath-Morrison, Benjamin Narkle and Jacob Narkle.
CREATIVES: DIRECTOR: Kyle J Morrison SET & COSTUME DESIGNER: Matthew McVeigh, LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mike Nanning, SOUND DESIGNER/COMPOSER: Dr Clint Bracknell, VISION DESIGNER: Mia Holton, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Ian Michael
VENUE: Studio Underground
DURATION: approx. 2 hours ( including interval)
WARNING: Some strong language, strobe lighting, haze, dynamic sound. We would like to respectfully inform you that you will hear the voices of people who have passed.
More information and bookings at www.bsstc.com.au
Production Photographs: Dana Weeks
After the Show
Starfish Social Photographs: Peter Rigby