Summer Nights in Space, VAULT Festival

Since he was little, John Spartan has been obsessed with outer space. His whole existence revolves around being an astronaut so as a young man, he enrolls in Space Base in order to fulfill his life’s purpose. Turns out that John’s course mates and wife find his constant prattling rather tiresome, so they take matters into their own hands – John is given a fake commission and loaded solo onto a shuttle. Three years later, he’s still singing his story to the on-board computer to pass the time until his ship will plummets into a far away star. 

Brand new musical Summer Nights in Space starts here, with Matthew Jacobs Morgan monologuing and singing his past to his captain’s log. Morgan is a great singer, but the young performer is still developing his confidence with dialogue and choreography. Once an alien intruder (Candice Palladino) bursts in, there is notable improvement. Palladino has an astonishingly powerful voice and a strong stage presence, but the two struggle to find the tension, danger and pace in the script – though there isn’t much to be found. Their chemistry also needs more development.

Henry Carpenter’s 1970’s musical stylings are distinctive and fun, but his book is painfully sparse. There’s not enough clarity in characterisation, and the premise of a person stuck on a space ship, mostly alone, is a difficult one to make interesting. About half of the show is John Spartan’s biography, which soon grows tedious as there is no forward movement – just exposition. John is largely resigned to his fate until he accidentally stumbles across a mission, but this happens way too late in the story to save it. The stakes aren’t high enough and the twist at the end, whilst surprising, is half-hearted.

Carpenter is clearly aiming for a kitschy, cult musical feel but there isn’t enough substance or plot to make this a reasonable goal. This musical would hugely benefit from a separate book writer who can add story, narrative progression and high stakes rather than meaningless filler in between the songs.

Summer Nights in Space runs through 19 February.

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