Starburst was invited to observe the rehearsals for Space Age Love Songs, a play with music and dancing that’s opening a mere eight days after this rehearsal. We’re in a small room on the sixth floor of an office block that’s seen better days: hidden away behind London Bridge railway station. Through the somewhat thin walls leach the sounds of performance art being developed – in our room almost a dozen people are gathered, intently watching two actors rehearse a scene. Welcome to the incredibly unglamorous world of making Science-Fiction Theatre.
T L Wiswell, the writer and, on behalf of Vulcanello Productions, the producer, first started developing the show three years ago, when she saw a jukebox musical at the theatre and had a sudden moment of inspiration. By the time the show had finished, she had the outline of the plot, the two worlds, and a firm idea of who some of the characters would be.
The plot follows Camille, who has no obvious friends and an alcoholic mother. In order to escape the awful reality of being the only goth in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1984, she’s created her own imaginary world, which she escapes into via the use of 1980’s music, such as Gary Numan and Human League. This being sci-fi, the ‘Mirrorworld’ has parallels with the real world, as characters in the ‘real world’ have counterparts in the ‘Mirrorworld’ who are exaggerated versions of themselves. “I love a theatrical device” says Director Micha Mirto, “and the two worlds really appealed”.
One of the central themes of Space Age Love Songs is that of ally-ship, and of the need for everyone to support each other and stand together. “I want to put on stage shows that tell different stories”, says Wiswell, “I’m trying to create the dystopia I imagined”, adding that she has taken “the tropes of B Movie Science-fiction and put them into this play”.
This brings us back to the scene we saw being rehearsed – which it transpires is that classic of coming of age movies: the older character, dispensing wisdom to our young hero. As it’s 1984, we’re on a bus, but it’s a scene familiar throughout genre entertainment. We’re privileged to observe a run-through of the whole show, and it’s obvious that a lot of work has been devoted to developing the backgrounds of the ‘real world’ characters, and that the creative team has heavily leaned into the desired Blade Runner aesthetic of the ‘Mirrorworld’, with sharp dance moves on display as the cast mark through their movements.
The run-through done, the cast disperse for a meal break, and the remaining members of the creative team huddle together, discussing changes to costumes, and deciding what props still need to be sourced. As we emerge from the unloved office building into the beating heart of Borough Market, we wonder what other stories lurk in these buildings – what other theatre is being made in neglected nooks and crannies? We’ve enjoyed these few hours in our own Mirrorworld, but now we have to face the real world of London’s transport system. Perhaps Human League can save us too?
Space Age Love Songs will be at the Hen & Chickens Theatre, 109 St Paul’s Road, Highnury, N1 2NA at 9PM from 21st to 25th August, as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are available on the door if still available, or in advance on the Camden Fringe Website.
The production will transfer to Two Brewers, Clapham Common, on selected dates from September 4th to September 28th.