Dr Niamh Shaw has got a Bachelors in Engineering, a PhD in Science, and has been to the European Space Agency (ESA) – and now, she has come to the Edinburgh Fringe as well. To Space is partly a science experiment, partly a memoir, and partly a heartfelt tale of wanting to go into space. It has its moments of fascination, and her passion for the mission is genuinely heart-warming; but it isn't quite tied together as a show.
Formerly a full-time academic and published author in peer-reviewed journals, Shaw is currently the Artist in Residence at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork. She begins by asking 'Where are we?' and follows it up with statistics about the position of Edinburgh on the rest of the planet, and even in the Universe. She scales further out and brings home to us the truly minute nature of our existence.
But then it's a change of pace, as we are taken on a tour of her past, starting from when she was eight and decided to be an astronaut. She shows us diary entries, photographs, and images collected from her teenage years; it's all laced with humour, and a preoccupation with boys and love. There's even a science experiment thrown into the mix, drawn from Shaw's PhD days.
Memories of visits to the ESA follow, as we are led back to her aspirations for the present time, and she toys with some interesting questions – like the future of the MarsOne mission, which attempts to relocate people to Mars by 2027. It's all delivered in an engaging style, and Shaw's enthusiasm for space travel is palpable. And it is very cool to be shown an actual space suit.
But in spite of that, as pure theatre, it lacked cohesion. Why, for example, did we see the experiment? As just an extension of her PhD memories, it was just too much – and it didn't go anywhere else. Each section was enjoyable, but the memories, the present, and the future did not come together for me.
Even so, if you've ever had a near-impossible dream, you'll understand what she's trying to convey. The chase of an idea, the stupid belief in it, and the grit to follow through with a plan are all touching concepts to hear about, especially when the medium is so personal.
Watch this with your sons; they will find inspiration. More importantly, take your daughters to see it. We need to nurture the belief that women can be successful scientists, famous scientists, even 'cool' scientists – ones like Niamh, whose flaming red hair merges seamlessly with her grey-blue space suit.