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October 30, 2008 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Apollo 13: Mission Control

Apollo 13: Mission Control

At Bats
Oct 18 – Nov 1

Reviewed by Jackson Coe

The promise when entering Apollo 13: Mission Control is of an interactive and immersive theatre experience where the audience directly take part in the action, and for most of the audience this promise is delivered upon.

In this creative and enterprising STAB show, the audience take on roles as operators in the control centre for the Apollo 13 space mission. The interior of Bats has been ripped up and restored with cool space-mission consoles equipped with flashing buttons, headsets, phones and monitors. Unfortunately due to space constraints there are not enough consoles to go around and some people, such as myself, are shunted up the back and miss out on playing with all of the exciting gizmos and gadgets.

The bulk of the show is well crafted. The most stricking apect is a generous and sophisticated serving of multimedia, including a live feed of the astronaughts as well as images of the real shuttle in action. James Milne’s evocative compositions assist in setting a respledent tone for the show and are exceptional pieces of music even on their own.

As an interactive theatre piece the show relies on actors who are capable and confident in working with an unfamiliar crowd every night. Jason Whyte holds down this talented group as the control room boss Gene Kranz, a man under immense pressure who must issue orders to everybody in the room as the mission turns to a disaster around him. Dramatic tension is explored through the presence of Michael Whallen, played by Michael Whalley, who questions Kranz on a few of his decisions. All of the actors are very good at what they do in the show.

While the work itself may be good enough, when I entered the auditorium for the first time I was immensely dispirited to see that I had been forced up the very back, missing out on all the cool equipment (chairs, headsets, buttons) which everybody else recieved. As I watched the people up the front enjoying themselves I became steadily more annoyed that I had been tossed the arse-end of the experience. My heart did flutter with excitement a little bit when we had to check under our seats for folders, and I enjoyed exercising my brain with some on-the-spot algebra, but ultimately this show failed to deliver on the experience it promised me. I was disappointed.


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Comments (6)

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  1. Uther Dean says:

    Don’t worry, Jackson, you didn’t miss out on much. The only person at a desk with any major interaction was the lucky soul who received the phone call from Nixon. It became rapidly clear that the switches did nothing and most interaction was superficial at best. We were never not going to get them back. And as amazing as the performances were (I especially enjoyed Rachel’s eyebrows) the show seemed to fail on its promise of a truly interactive theatre experience falling somewhere between panto-style call-and-response and a philosophic discussion of futility. Which would not be a big deal, the rest of the show I felt more than made up for it, had they not marketed the show on almost that point alone.

  2. Jackson says:

    Yeah, I’ve read similar criticisms that the consoles were mostly just superficial – decoration, if you will. But at least if I had sat in one I would have been able to play make-believe a little easier and actually felt like I was involved in something.

    Man, I’m totally bitter about this. Oh well, bring on O’Donnell, no doubt he’ll cook up something good!

  3. jessie says:

    Wow i can’t believe how unprofessional this review is, and the reviewers comment just backs it up. I too sat on “The Hill” (along with the 12 or so others in that row) and found the show totally “immersive” it was a beautiful site seeing all the lights come up on the desks and observing the actors darting about the crowd. The whole theatre was so detailed that there was so much to absorb yourself in from the screens to the graphics, wall hangings, things planted in the audience… The fact Jackson found it hard to “make believe” i think says more about the kind of person he is and is not any reflection on the show itself. How does he usually suspend disbelief in a normal theatre show? The amount of work that must have gone into that set is astounding and i bet for jack all money. Jeez the tickets were only 13 bucks! what did he expect? the real thing?!? You know it wasn’t actually a real rocket they launched.

  4. space man says:

    Poor jackson, didn’t he learn to share at Kindy?

  5. Hackman says:

    Dear Mr Coe
    I am one of the people responsible for your disappointing evening. As co-creator and designer it was my decision to incorporate the back row ‘hill’ into the design of Apollo 13 despite knowing that there would be people like you who would be frustrated at not having a console to sit behind. This was not done because we couldn’t be bothered making more consoles or because we ran out of time but for the simple reason that we couldn’t fit any more in. It was tough but I had to balance this decision with the prediction that this would be an extremely popular show that more than 64 people a night would want to see. By the end, with a sold out season and waiting lists of 40+ people, I think we made the right choice and I still stand behind my decision.
    As for your comment about the consoles being ‘superficial decoration’ you might be right. Maybe every switch should have worked and ever phone should have been ringing. Maybe we should have had 20 video channels that could be changed on every monitor and the mission controllers should have been able to communicate directly with the astronauts via their headsets. But maybe you should be telling this to Robert Larsen our technical genius who worked solidly every day for six weeks (including all nighters on more than one occasion) with the help of dozens of volunteers who made this show what it is. I am disappointed that you can dismiss what was a beautifully constructed technical piece, the likes of which have not been seen in this country before and which worked flawlessly every night, by suggesting there could be more. Robert Larsen deserves more respect than that. Of course it is our intention to make the show more interactive with more working buttons and phones but we simply did not have the funds to do so. Our primary concern for this production was making sure people got paid. You cant have a great show without great actors and you cant have great actors without paying them what they deserve. Every other cent went into the production.
    So I am sorry Mr Coe if your night was disappointing but we tried our best and I think I speak for the whole team when I say we are very happy with what we achieved with the resources we had. However I do not think that this is the end of the road for Apollo 13: Mission Control and if we do return to Wellington and you do come again I would expect that your experience will be more interactive and enjoyable.

    Brad Knewstubb

  6. Jackson says:

    Hi Brad

    You make some great points and I agree that your piece was a remarkable technical achievement. In writing my review I tried my hardest to give the show the credit it deserved while making the point that I felt I had missed out on the exciting tidbits which made the show such a joy for so many people. It’s hard to say this without coming across as whiney.

    Apollo 13 surely deserves to be seen again, but if there aren’t enough consoles to go around, perhaps those audience members who will be missing out should be informed of this before they enter the theatre? My disappointment came from feeling so excited on my way in, and then feeling frustrated that I couldn’t experience first-hand many of the things that the show was built on – one example being the role call, which made me feel quite excluded because I had no way of joining in and feeling a part of the group. If the box-office had said ‘Hey dude, we’re full up so you’ll be sitting in the back section for tonight’, I would have had no problem. I’m a pretty reasonable guy.

    I appreciate and understand the reasons such decisions were made – but I still shouldn’t have to feel left out. I hope you can build on this criticism.

    Anyways, I hope you continue to experiment with the show and that it continues it’s successes into the future.


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