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Nick Mohammed in Apollo 21 - Fringe 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Thick smoke fills Pleasance Upstairs, as rousing classical music swells and awe-inspiring images of the moon landings fill the screen. For a show about space, this is ironically atmospheric.

But therein lies a problem with Nick Mohammed’s latest show. So meticulous is the attention to detail, so subtle and realistic his performance that it’s difficult to have an emotional reaction to it. Everything is just so perfectly considered and professionally executed, the comedy feels as sanitised as the most delicate scientific instrument in NASA’s labs.

It’s frustrating that Mohammed doesn’t connect with the heart, because, intellectually, everything about this show is right. He’s taken an original and timely subject and taken a truly distinctive angle on it. This is the Apollo mission reimagined for the Heat generation, full of trivia and tittle-tattle from the astronauts, subverting their status from heroes to ordinary petty men.

Buzz Aldrin, who leads us through the talk becomes a needy simpleton with a husky Lancastrian accent. Michael Collins is even more dense, and speaks with a surprisingly camp accent. Mohammed also introduces us to Laika, the first dog in space, and Bart, a conspiracy theories whose ideas aren’t exactly watertight, and his motives questionable. In this show, as in real life, Neil Armstrong shuns the limelight, and we only hear of his behaviour from his colleagues and his decrepit mum.

These brilliantly realised characters, performed in Mohammed’s typically understated manner, make the mission mundane. Instead of observing the dark side of the moon, for example, they sit in their module playing lame board games.

Yet for all the satisfyingly rich performance and dryly witty script, the show could do firstly with a few more gags – but more crucially a sense of passion. Only when Aldrin recounts his anger at the arrogant Armstrong for using Thus Spake Zarathusa as the wake-up tune on his alarm clock is there any sense of emotion in the show; while fun only comes in carefully-rationed doses.

Mohammed’s clearly a talent, and this show is impressive on so many levels. But impressive doesn’t always translate into laughs in a show that can’t escape its own gravity.

Review date: 15 Aug 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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