Little Eagles

Premiering almost exactly half a century after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became
 the first man to orbit the earth, Rona Munro’s lengthy new play for the
 Royal Shakespeare Company takes as its focal point the chief designer who,
 though unacknowledged at the time, was the driving force behind the Soviet
 space programme.

Initially, we see Sergei Korolyov starving and beaten in one of Stalin’s

Saved from death by a doctor’s ministrations and, subsequently, a timely summons back to Moscow, he pushes himself to the limit developing 
long range missiles in tandem with pursuing his dream – to design a rocket 
capable of propelling man into space.

Munro presents us with a wealth of interesting information (from the shifts
 in political climate to little snippets regarding the height restrictions imposed on the pilots – his “little eagles” –  so that they could fit more 
comfortably within the capsule confines) and a blackly comic scene centring 
on a human guinea-pig tested beyond the limit.

As Korolyov, Darrell D’Silva
 exudes the sort of determination guaranteed to inspire devotion in his band
 of scientists who, like him, were once considered enemies of the people.

There’s good work, too, from Dyfan Dwyfor’s likeable Gagarin (eager for a
 second voyage into space but too important a national hero to be exposed to
 such a risk) and from Brian Doherty’s coarse, jokey and enthusiastically
 supportive Khrushchev.

But some characters come and go too fast to make an impact (Korolyov’s
 second wife is reduced to just a name mentioned in passing) and there’s a
 surfeit of extraneous material.

The potential for a really strong play about
 the Soviet side of the space race is lurking here, but Munro’s ambitious 
attempt, like the production’s misjudged staging of that first epic flight, 
takes off and is then left dangling.



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– Louise Kingsley