Will O’Mahony‘s Blue Room adaptation of The Mars Project is (please forgive this terrible pun) stellar. Now in the hands of 5 players instead of 17, including O’Mahony himself, it’s found more depth and better clarity this time around the sun. It is a scathing indictment of selfishness, but there’s a secondary discussion of autism that collides tragically with the primary narrative that sits very heavily if you allow it to sink in.
The plays first iteration was fantastic; there were all these young actors displaying each of their unique qualities, and the ideas and dialogue were challenging in the best way. None of that has been lost here, though a second viewing allowed me to trace clearer lines between scenes. O’Mahony’s scripts seem to have the driving force of a commuter train, rolling straight ahead on a mission to the end of the line, but stopping off station to station to deliver piercing insights about human nature along the way.
The cast is able to really dig into the material, and what emerges is a wonderful range of perspectives. Felicity McKay finds a great deal of vulnerability mixed in with her character’s ambitiousness, and this of course is absolutely necessary to make sense of the character and her actions. Andrea Gibbs makes us both laugh and cry, the ultimate feat for an actor to achieve. Will O’Mahony is of course completely comfortable in the words he’s written, and has a casual sinister quality that makes his characters interesting. Steve Turner approaches his role as PR man with matter-of-factness and efficiency, and Luke Fewster in a mostly non-speaking role, in constant orbit around the others, has the last sobering word.
This show tickles all kinds of neurons and it’s rapid-fire thought-provoking; the pace is quick, but never frenetic, and O’Mahony does allow time and space to let moments develop where needed. The extremely minimal design allows the story and the characters to maintain their priority status, with hula hoops serving as almost the only prop and splash of colour on set.
The Mars Project isn’t always perfect, but there are moments it gets darn close. It’s hard to say what specific emotional impact O’Mahony is aiming at, though it is evident that he is looking to grab us by the guts. I think in the end, the impact lands a bit further up in the anatomy, right in the grey matter, and that’s not such a bad thing. The story of this twin ridding herself of the burden twinship for her own gain is something akin to ancient myth, and therefore slightly out of step with what most people would consider normal behaviour. Her final act is difficult to justify under any circumstance, and so it’s really difficult for the audience to empathise with her, no matter how much pain we observe her to be in. But as a metaphor for the truly awful things that humans do to each other every day, it’s apt.
As a thought piece on ASD, I think it’s a good prompt for further education on the lives and minds of autistic individuals. O’Mahony raises many of the issues surrounding our understanding and treatment of both the people and the disorder, and it’s certainly a subject which befits dramatic exploration, though it’s not the main thematic feature of this show.
The Mars Project shows us just how self-serving, self-indulgent and lethally competitive humans have the potential to be. It shows the kind of moral corruption that makes us want to get off this planet and go start a colony on Mars.