The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment

A response by Jonathan Wakeham

I’ve always struggled with quantum physics. Particles that can be in two places at once. Events that happen differently depending on who’s watching. Wormholes that leap between universes, collapsing vast distances to nothing. And then I saw The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment and suddenly all became clear.

A performer stands before us, wearing headphones. There are ten of us, and one of them, and the words inside the headphones will be new to all of us. We’re going on an adventure: an adventure in a room; through space; through time; through our own memories. It’s an adventure that was written and recorded several months ago, but that is absolutely simultaneously happening right here, right now; and also somewhere else tomorrow; and somewhere else next week.

And it’s an adventure that’s the same every time that it’s performed, but absolutely different too: you and I have seen the same show, but our memories of it will be different, and when we meet and compare our experience, we’ll never know whether the differences are because of the performer; or because of the audience; or because of how you and I choose to remember things; or because you and I are different, despite all that we share, which is not just that you and I have seen the same show.

At the time I’m writing this, which is my present and your past, the most popular film in the world is The Martian. Ridley Scott spent $108m to send Matt Damon into space; and yet, for all its wonders, The Martian feels slighter, sparser and smaller than The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment. The Martian, after all, is Aristotle — unity of action, time and place — to the The Man Who’s Heisenberg. IMAX 3D can blast us all the way from Cape Canaveral to the bright red dust of Mars, but only theatre can whisk us in a moment from the bleak wastes of Star City to a Soviet-era artwork to an entirely metaphorical — but no less real — front porch, beyond which stretch our dreams.

What do we mean by space travel? A travel through space, or a space that travels? Millions marvel every Saturday at the adventures of a Time Lord whose box is bigger on the inside and that flies through time and space, but what counts as fiction to science is everyday reality to theatre, spinning between universes real, imagined and psychological with dizzying agility and speed. The story of Ilya Kabakov inside the story of Yuri Gagarin inside the story of the space race inside the story of the Cold War inside the story of all of us inside a room with a projector, a performer, ten postcards, some boots and a balloon. A set of Russian dolls. A multiverse. An intimate epic. A show.

Image: Julian Hughes