Callisto 5: World Premiere Reviews
An Altogether Different Planet (by Paul Taylor)
"If you were 16 and had been stuck for the last eight years in a dome on the uninhabited icebound planet of Callisto with no company except a robot babysitter, a comatose sister on a life-support machine and the relentlessly impassive voice of a computer programme, you could, I suppose, take comfort from the thought that at least peer-group pressure was not too big a worry. As a consolation, however, this does not even cross the mind of Jem (Simon Cox), the teenager marooned amidst the high-tech hardware and TV screens in Callisto 5, Alan Ayckbourn's new lunchtime Christmas show at Scarborough.
Traditional panto this isn't - indeed, at times, it might remind you of a cross between Endgame and Doctor Who with additional gags. The fact that, on my visit at least, it also gripped the attention of a theatre swarming with small children is a tribute to its cunning, split-level appeal. For the younger element, it takes the situation of being lumbered with irksome babysitters and extends it to comic-nightmare proportions. To this it adds the primitive fear of being orphaned: through a tragic power failure, Jem's astronomer parents have been stranded on a neighbouring star. Present to him only as images in long-since recorded messages which flash up on the TV screen, they may well now be dead.
Fun and sci-fi thrills are wrested from this cheerless plight. Cox, all boyish body language relayed through an incongruously adult frame, has some of the goofy charm Tom Hanks displayed in Big. Depressed and restless, he is served up hated macaroni cheese supper with literally robotic regularity. It is he, preposterously, who has to jolly along his erratically programmed parent-substitute (played by Nigel Anthony) in an outfit which blends Richard III armour, glittery heated rollers and dodgy wiring. Suspense is generated when an unaccountable alien, whose operations can only be followed through a video camera, appears to infiltrate the dome.
It is a wordy, wittily jargon filled script, but the children do a lot of craning forward, which is a good sign and the play does end happily ever after. For the older Ayckbourn-watcher, it's the underlying bleakness that makes the lasting impression as well as the preoccupations it shares with his work for adult audiences. "I have no specific programme-classification for Friendship," announces the "female" voice of the computer with its maddening, mildly brainwashing equability. There is no human softness in this software. Its attempt to divert the boy from his depression only shows the depth of its incomprehension of his emotional need. The situation is rather like, say, needing a warm maternal hug to ward off the cold and being efficiently offered, instead, a Fisherman's Friend to suck on."
(The Independent, 20 December 1990)
Callisto 5 (by Jeremy Kingston)
"Callisto 5, set on a space station on a moon of Jupiter where 17-year-old Jem (Simon Cox) lives alone with a robot babyminder - Nigel Anthony in lead-weighted gumboots and brillo-pad hair. Jem's parents are briefly seen on the video screen talking about the importance of caring, but they have left him for eight years with a robot programmed to treat him as an infant. There is some comedy in this but too much talk. The children listened carefully and laughed when they could, but the favourite moments came when Jem played with a silver soft-ball that sighed when thrown in the air and squawked when bounced. Unfortunately Jem tires of the game before the audience does and nothing else was as much fun."
(The Times, 14 December 1990)
Callisto 5 (by Bob Keogh)
"For this year's Christmas play Alan Ayckbourn ventures into space: to the inner suburbs of the Jupiter system, as any scientifically-aware youngster, on reading the title, may inform his / her parents.
But parents themselves will no doubt already know some of the other co-ordinates: 2001 for a speaking computer which seems decreasingly omniscient as the tale proceeds; Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, perhaps, for a funny android whose babysitting program is liable to lurch into manic-depression.
Not plagiarism, of course: what Ayckbourn is doing is borrowing some well-tried science-fiction images to fuel a story which is not only cunningly angled at children but also has a timely message about the value of human resourcefulness in the age of artificial intelligence.
There are two striking novelties: First, the degree to which the plot depends on video screens - a fairly secure hook for young attention. Second (arising from those videos), the fact that, of five characters (or perhaps six, but we do not want to give too much away...), only three appear in the flesh, one of them only briefly.
They are Simon Cox, as the alert, adolescent hero, marooned in a scientific base, and Nigel Anthony, the android nanny condemned to a 24-hour cyclic existence; though they do have Tam Hoskyns' vocal computer for sort-of company.
Perhaps the first-half build-up is a touch drawn-out, though Roger Glossop's stylish set, all control panels, screens and coloured lights, helps to see us through. But there is no doubting audience involvement by the time the expected malevolent alien appears (or, more exactly, does not appear - though for the explanation of that you will have to see for yourself)."
(Yorkshire Post, 13 December 1990)
Fun For The Kids In Space-Age Story (by Gillian Enlund)
"Life beyond the final frontier has become rather boring for young space citizen Jem.
He has been left alone in the family space station for eight years while mum and dad rushed off to cope with an inter-galactic emergency.
Jem is a bright young lad, but with only a senile robotic babysitter and an irritatingly calm computer for company, is suffering from a lack of intellectual stimulation.
However, when a strange and unwelcome visitor starts alarm bells ringing outside the air-locked door, the excitement begins.
And that is when the young audience witnessing the premiere performance of Alan Ayckbourn's newest family show, really came alive.
Doors opening by themselves, accompanied by flashing lights and bleeps, pyrotechnic explosions, and sci-fi mood music, enlivened this sometimes slow space age story.
The children viewing Callisto 5 were up on their feet, craning their necks to make sure they did not miss a single visual trick on the stage.
Throughout the show there were some ingenious feats of imagination, inspired by writer Ayckbourn and put into effect by clever designer Roger Glossop.
There was more visual spectacle with Damaris, the "off-the-shelf Super-minder Tot II" babysitting robot, and the small but beautifully designed ball which yelled "Whee!" each time it was thrown in the air.
Young Simon Cox is fresh-faced Jem, Nigel Anthony fits snugly into the role of the silly surrogate mum Damaris, and Tam Hoskyns, her voice at least, speaks with unintelligible authority from somewhere off stage as the all-knowing computer called Iris."
(Scarborough Evening News, 13 December 1990)
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.