'Rocket to the Moon' review or 'The doctor will see you now.'

'Rocket to the Moon', Clifford Odets
National Theatre, Wednesday 30th March 
Written for Ham & High

Jessica Raine as Cleo Singer, Joseph Millson as Ben Stark. Photo Credit: Catherine Ashmore

'Don't you think there's a world of joyful men and women?' implores Cleo Singer of her boss, dentist Ben Stark. Not in dentistry there isn't. Clifford Odets' 1938 play, 'Rocket to the Moon', is set at a failing clinic, during a scorching New York summer. It is a place where 'everyday is Monday', where the height of success is the acquisition of a water cooler and where everyone is miserable.

But the arrival of new assistant Cleo Singer (Jessica Raine) - a knockout lass who dreams of dancing – turns this arid, abject world upside down. She sets her sights on brow-beaten boss Ben Stark (Joseph Millson), who is under his wife's thumb, fingers and fist. And, as she drapes herself around the office in an array of increasingly seductive poses, Cleo finally bags her man.

Cleo - always on hand to offer 'assistance'

Cleo is a small town girl in a big city and, as Raine's head lolls around freely from her body, she looks like a baby still grappling for control. It is a bit like having a beautiful Bambi onstage. The other characters are equally sharply defined: weedy boss Ben is the chopping board for his battle-axe wife and father in law, Mr Prince (Nicholas Woodeson), is as exuberant as everyone else is defeated.

These broad but colourful characters, flirting and wilting in the heat, make for an initially entertaining ride. However, when Odets turns the screw in the second half, he doesn't have the right calibre of characters to play with. Everyone feels a little thin and their relationships, under developed. Director Angus Jackson could've done more to level out the tone, with more sinister shadows lingering in the first half. Odets works up to some memorable lines, as Cleo's romantic visions are punctured (Everybody forgets to dream!), but this rocket doesn't really take off.


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