Evening darkness has fallen on Hartlepool. A lone figure (Rakhee Thakrar), dressed in black and looking somewhat distressed, stands by the water's edge – ready to jump. Along comes a passer-by, a modern day good Samaritan (Sophie Steer). But this is no ordinary attempt at suicide. And this is no ordinary passer-by.
This play opens with this interesting and simple scene, and the same set-up will be repeated many times over the following hour. Each iteration exposes a little more of script's central themes: of strong civic pride, and of divided people amid local deprivation. The root cause is seen to be money, captured by a clever metaphor which pictures Britain's wealth flowing down from Hartlepool and into London.
The script sides with the people of Hartlepool: it is dressed with a sense of belonging and shrouded in suspicion of outsiders, with a touch of the religious divide. But as the title suggests, this is also a work of science fiction. The characters are blasted in and out of an otherwise invisible multiverse, dotting back and forth through other dimensions to encounter alternative and parallel versions of themselves. Some scenes are repeated too, with different characters visible. I'm afraid all this ambition rendered me confused. This is not a play about time-travel, though it did at first seem that way.
The acting is of a high standard, in a production that opens with promise – and Steer and Thakrar successfully turn an unusual science-fiction plot into a semi-comic exposé, revealing Hartlepool as the centre of something higher. But they are stretched to the limit by the simple uniformity of the repeated scene, and the religious, fractal multiverse setting seems to pull the story to one side instead of helping it along.
The procession of the opening scene, replayed and replayed, led this play to ultimately fail what a colleague calls 'the get on with it test'; the story doesn't move along fast enough and clearly enough to maintain strong enough interest. At the end, a small part of me was in fact applauding that the end had arrived. Yet this very modern play, reflecting Brexit as a cosmic war driven by politics and religion, does have potential. With more development, it could prove the jumping-off point for something intriguing.