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Review: SPACE STATION EARTH, Royal Albert Hall

This may be the closest we'll get to being in space, man.

Review: SPACE STATION EARTH, Royal Albert Hall

Review: SPACE STATION EARTH, Royal Albert Hall Maybe it was written in the stars but, the day after Sam Ryder's Eurovision entry rocketed the UK into the nosebleed heights of second place with his song "Space Man", the Royal Albert Hall debuted the extraterrestrial spectacular Space Station Earth.

Seven years in the making, this show is the brainchild of International Space Station (ISS) astronaut Tim Peake and Layer Cake composer Ilan Eshkeri in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA). Peake kickstarted its creation before he went into orbit: unimpressed with how the ISS experience was portrayed, he asked the British musician for permission to use some of the latter's work as part of a video he planned to film while aboard the ISS.

From there, things snowballed. As discussed in a 45-minute pre-show interview between the two men, Eshkeri was soon doing more than signing a release slip, taking up the ESA's offer to see a live rocket launch and experience weightlessness on a micro-gravity parabolic flight (infamously known as the "vomit comet"). He then created Space Station Earth's hour-long musical score which, when backed by the eye-popping images recorded from the ISS and shown on three large screens behind the musicians, create a dazzling son et lumière-style performance reminiscent of an arena rock gig - albeit one with large brass and string sections.

This is obviously a work of love for Eshkeri. The pre-show music draws heavy on themes from Seventies spacefaring TV shows and films of his childhood including Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Blake's 7, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Space: 1999. His passion for the subject at hand is amply demonstrated in the powerful way his score evokes the human journey up to liftoff, building up to a crescendo as the craft leaves the ground and then reaches its destination. Peake speaks extensively of the "cognitive shift" that returning astronauts feel and the ESA visuals combined with Eshkeri's music bring to vivid life just how it must feel to look down upon a familiar green-and-blue planet framed by the blackest-black of space and the whitest-white of a sun not filtered through an atmosphere.

Peake makes a number of comparisons between the self-sustaining ISS ("there are no passengers") and Earth, not least the impact of climate change and other threats to "our only sanctuary in the vast universe we live in". The footage shows in poignant moments life aboard the station as we see the crew playing with stray water bubbles, exercising, arranging floating fruit in mid-air, working on experiments and going on a space walk. Given a choice, Peake says he would prefer to live in zero-gravity and it is easy to see why.

This is a unique show which is beautifully executed. At an hour long, the soul-stirring music is loud and soulful in the right places and timed just right with no noticeable filler. Within the cavernous Royal Albert Hall, Space Station Earth loses some of its visual effect unless you're sat near the stage but its hard to deny the power of what Peake and Eshkeri have created.

Ryder sang that "If I was an astronaut, I'd have a bird's eye view/In my floating castle, I'd rub shoulders with the stars" and this show may just be the closest any of us will get to that.

Space Station Earth is currently on tour.

Image: ESA, NASA and Thomas Pesquet


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