Two Astronauts Try to Save the Earth and Search for Meaning in Edinburgh Fringe's Alone | Playbill

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Playbill Goes Fringe Two Astronauts Try to Save the Earth and Search for Meaning in Edinburgh Fringe's Alone

Arriving from New Zealand, the two-hander raises questions about how we're (not) handling the climate crisis, and how gender inequality could prevent us from healing the planet.

Courtney Bassett and Kat Glass

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!

When faced with death, do you think you'd know what meaning your life held? That's one of the questions at the heart of Alone, a sci-fi drama by Luke Thornborough. Playing Fringe at Assembly George Square's Studio One through August 28, Alone takes place in the main control area of a spacecraft on its return journey to Earth. It's some point in the future where the climate crisis has completely altered life as we know it now—and two women are trying to change that. Having fought to get where they are despite being undermined and second-guessed because of their gender, Dr. Sarah Taylor and pilot Jessica Holland have bonded through the long journey and their shared experiences.

Dr. Taylor believes she has found a bacteria that will instantly convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, which could revitalize Earth and make it habitable once more. It's Holland's job to get them and the samples back to Earth. But will they make it?

Thornborough began writing the play in 2019, and developed it over months and months. He interviewed scientists and pilots about their experiences, and what they believe they would do in the play's scenarios. It premiered at an aircraft hanger during the Auckland Fringe Festival in New Zealand where it won multiple awards including Best Theatre. It subsequently had successful runs at New Zealand Fringe Festival and Sydney Fringe Festival before playing in Whangārei and at Auckland's Q Theatre. Read on below to find out more about the catalyst behind the show, how it speaks to the very real concerns we face as a society today, and what it was like to bring the show halfway around the world below.

What compelled you to write Alone?
is an attempt to try and find meaning in the fragility of our lives. Back in 2019, Courtney Bassett, Kat Glass, and myself were throwing around ideas for scripts we could write. Courtney had the idea of two astronauts who were in a time-precious situation that played out as a one-room drama in real time. A friend of mine had just passed away, and I was feeling at a loss to find meaning in it all. I felt compelled to write the play. After about nine months of development through table reads and then a further two months of development with Courtney and Kat, we created Alone

The show very much addresses current issues like the climate crisis and the push for gender equality. How did writing this work as a sci-fi drama give you freedom to explore those topics?
Our current climate crisis is something that keeps me awake at night, and the fact that we ignore it borders on the absurd. The idea that ideological bickering gets in the way of saving our planet is heartbreaking to think about. With science fiction, I could push this absurdity to its extreme to highlight the sad reality that humanity may never put aside its prejudices in order to save itself. The theme of gender equality was much more gradual in its discovery. Through interviewing a series of female-identifying scientists, it quickly became apparent just how sidelined these incredible academics were. I realized that the lead scientist in the play wouldn’t be lauded, but would in fact face derision and skepticism—something that would lead her to some desperate actions later in the play. Similarly interviewing former military personnel, I realized that the play’s pilot would face similar scrutiny in her field as well. Sci-fi gave me the freedom to point out the absurdity at the heart of this—that two people who could otherwise save the world are held back simply because of their gender. 

Were there movies or plays that you turned to for inspiration on how to write Alone?
I was very inspired by the movie Interstellar as well as the naturalism and slow burn tension of Alien. The play also follows a similar structure and themes to Waiting for Godot and Krapp's Last Tape. Ultimately, I wanted to balance a sense of slice-of-life realism that makes the audience feel like a fly-on-the-wall with the drama and spectacle of the sci-fi genre.

Kat Glass and Courtney Bassett

What do you hope audiences take with them from the show?
I hope that audiences ask themselves what it is that truly gives their lives meaning—and to question if they are living a life that upholds that. I hope that they look critically at those who seek to silence climate activists and scientists who are trying to save our planet. Many audiences report going home and giving their mums a big hug!

Why did you want to bring Alone to Fringe?
I had never experienced anything like Fringe before. When fellow Kiwis have told me about it, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. It is an incredibly inspiring place to be. The networking opportunities are incredible, but above all, the ability to reach such a large audience is unsurpassed. The other shows at the festival are breathtaking.

What's been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was getting here—it is an enormous cost to bring the cast and crew over from Aotearoa in New Zealand, as well as providing everyone with accommodation and food! Logistically, it has been a sharp-learning curve.

And the biggest reward?
The biggest reward has been the audience feedback—we have honestly been overwhelmed with the beautiful reviews people have been leaving us, and it’s so wonderful to hear that our story is touching so many people.

Courtney Bassett and Kat Glass

What's something you've learned about doing Fringe?
I have learned so much… but mainly, Fringe has broadened my mind as to what live performance can be. There is so much imagination here, and I am buzzing with ideas after seeing so many incredible performances.

What show are you recommending people see?
I LOVED Ice Hole. Brilliant clowning done incredibly well. I also highly recommend Woodhill for an exceptionally powerful theatrical experience.

If you’re comfortable sharing, how much did it cost you to present Alone at Fringe? How did you find the funds?
I’d say that we have spent well over £15,000 on bringing our show to the Fringe this year. Some of this has been our own money, but most of this was raised by our supporters in New Zealand through a crowdfunding campaign. We are so incredibly grateful to them and cannot thank them enough.

Alone is presented by Glow House Ltd and Dusty Room Productions. With its original cast, the Fringe run features many original creative team members including technical designer and operator Michael Goodwin.

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