Little Eagles

24 May

Little Eagles Review
****

A play of “vodka smiles”, Rona Munro’s ambitious Little Eagles for the RSC creates an alcohol rich cocktail of hope, despair and excitement, with a strong shot of naivety.

The set is reminiscent of Edward Scissorhand’s creator’s lab; modern yet slightly amateur, as though comparing a wooden wheel to a BMW’s. A slight nod to the ‘mad scientist’, set designer Ti Green depicted a cross between an exciting backdrop of scientific discovery combined with an Alan Sugar caricature; with Korolyov’s incessant “you’re fired!”

Whilst the set remained almost the same throughout, the rocket triggered suspense as the audience guessed how it would be used to launch the Eagles into space. The result is relatively disappointing, yet perhaps this is to reflect on the lack of scientific discovery.

Young, eager eagle Yuri Gagarin is the first to be launched into space. Aside from the vodka drenched script and eerie repetition of, “dip it in vodka, melt it on your tongue”, the spinning as he collides with the atmosphere is enough to make anyone feel drunk.

The script produces many moments of subtle yet rather poignant poetic language, which sometimes seems slightly uneasy coming from the strong dialect of the characters. Gagarin declares, “I’ve seen more stars than you’ll ever see”, describing himself as, “a grain of sand in the universe.”

Korolyov is the fortunate chosen one of the so called “angel of death”; the female doctor who gives him the life saving vaccination when he is a prisoner in the gulag. The prison scenes are depicted particularly well, as the doctor is described as having, “the smell of death and gunpowder under her nose.”

He goes from being prisoner to the chief designer of the space programme at the hands of the authoritative Khrushchev. Yet his fortune comes as at a price as he is often haunted by the ghost of a dead comrade. Strangely Korolyov doesn’t seem to show much remorse, which is an element lacking from the play.

The message from the doctor seemed to harp back to the 1920’s wave of feminism with Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own, as she consistently asks when she’ll be getting her apartment, much to deaf ears. Woolf’s famous essay describes how a woman’s own space is more important than women getting the vote. The doctor says, “I have a cupboard full of pills but I still don’t have an apartment”, a notion strikingly similar to Woolf’s.

The director subtly seems to refer to feminist issues; the female doctor in a role of power is masculine in many ways. Her voice is relatively deep, she has the ultimate power over Korolyov’s life and she is the one who decides who goes into space whether they are fit enough. Yet she is still not rewarded her own apartment. When an Eagle catches an STI, the woman is to blame for being “too flirty.”

Watching from a modern perspective makes it seem all the more clear that the doctor has the insight which Korolyov lacks. She points out that the money spent on the mission could buy “every little girl in the Soviet Republics two pairs of sandals and a bowl of chicken soup every day of her life”. Again, the focus is on young girls being feeble, in a time of apparent equality.

Yet the emphasis appears to be on “beating America” to space; the main objective of the mission. As Korolyov basks in his glory all he can think about is the fact that the Russians beat the Americans.
Hugely ambitious and largely successful aside from moments which lack in human emotion, “Little Eagles” is an intriguing reflection to the Soviet space story almost 50 years on.

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