Liam Joseph, Thomas Lovell and Charlotte Price in PLUTO
Photo credit: Dave Bird

Moonchild Theatre‘s debut venture, a play written and directed by co-founder Callum O’Brien, recently had its first run at Barons Court Theatre in southwest London ahead of summer performances at the King’s Head and Cockpit theatres. One of their key interests is creating pieces that millennials can engage with, and make their audiences think about important social and political ideas.

We begin in 2006, where Professor Furtham and her assistant Archer are out observing the night sky, all set to send a probe to Pluto – a planet set to be demoted to dwarf planet status under new criteria. After ten years the probe finally reaches its destination, so Pluto and his moon Charon have decided to throw a party to celebrate, unaware of the bad news it’s carrying. However, as usual, nobody has shown up. Charon does her best to cheer him up, and together they try to come to terms with this life-changing bombshell.

Liam Joseph in PLUTO
Photo credit: Dave Bird

The primary inspiration for this play is the debate surrounding the North Carolina Bathroom bill: Pluto just wants to be a planet, but because of the decision of an outside organisation he’s forced to conform to rules he doesn’t believe in. There is also a strong focus on friendship; Charon tries to help Pluto as he spirals into depression, testing their bond to the limit.

It is an impressive first play for O’Brien that raises some interesting questions and definitely gets you thinking about the way the world works. The use of Pluto’s change of status as the template is really clever, and showing him as a person makes the story immediately engaging and relatable. The speeches are often quite poetic, though at times it doesn’t feel completely natural as spoken word – however this is a minor thing and doesn’t at all detract from the message he wants to get across.

Liam Joseph and Charlotte Price in PLUTO
Photo credit: Dave Bird

What is hugely impressive is the whole package they present to their audience: from the party invitations on each seat to the production values. Giuliana Davolio’s set and lighting design is astounding. The detail in the set is incredible, with lots of little nuggets waiting to be spotted – a particular favourite has to be the lights above the sofa representing the planets of the Solar System, which also add a nice touch of colour. The very intimate setting of Barons Court Theatre is ideal for the house party, as you feel like you really have been invited in, but it will definitely benefit from being played out in a larger auditorium (especially for the opening and closing scenes).

It is brought to life by a brilliant cast of three. The dynamic between Liam Joseph and Charlotte Price as Pluto and Charon really does make you believe that their lives have been intertwined for as long as they can remember. They’re also both very funny; Price seemingly has boundless energy as Charon flits around trying to cheer up her friend, and Joseph makes Pluto drunk dialling Earth very memorable indeed. Thomas Lovell very nearly steals the show as an unexpected arrival (you have to see it to believe it), ramping up the awkwardness in the house with hilarious results.

Charlotte Price in PLUTO
Photo credit: Dave Bird

My verdict? A stellar debut production that is stunningly put together, making you think but not losing entertainment value – it is an absolute blast!

Rating: 4*

PLUTO ran at Barons Court Theatre until 23 April 2017. Tickets for the King’s Head (30 July & 1 August 2017) and the Cockpit (14-17 August 2017) will be available soon.

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