Theatre / toby hulse

Toby Hulse on ‘Luna’, Wardrobe Theatre

By steve wright, Tuesday Jul 9, 2019

Fifty years to the day since man first walked on the moon, Bristol’s Roustabout present a glorious celebration of our relationship with our closest cosmic companion, for audiences aged 7+.

For as long as we have turned our eyes to the sky we have been entranced by the moon. It controls our tides, stabilises our orbit, marks our time. And on July 20th 1969 two humans finally landed on its surface.

Luna is a joyous adventure through humanity’s ongoing fascination with this mysterious lump of dead grey rock, from our earliest attempts to explain its ever-changing presence, to the extraordinary achievements that culminated in Neil Armstrong’s one small step. Playing at The Wardrobe Theatre exactly 50 years to the day since the first moon landing, Luna is a rich feast of storytelling, puppetry, music, history and science.

Scenes from the ‘Luna’ rehearsal room. L-R: performers Robin Hemmings and Shaelee Rooke.
All pics: Craig Fuller

The show is directed by Toby Hulse and performed by Shaelee Rooke and Robin Hemmings, plus a supporting cast of household objects and domestic lights. Here’s Toby to tell us more.

So, what’s Luna about?
There’s an iconic moment in the classic Planet of the Apes movie that has always struck me as ridiculous.

At its climax, Charlton Heston’s character George Taylor rides along a beach and sees the Statue of Liberty half-buried in the sand. It is only then that he realises that he has not travelled through space to an alien planet ruled by apes, but through time to a future Earth. He has been ‘home’ all along.

However, on any of the many nights he has spent on the planet, he had only to look up at the sky to see the Moon, and he would have instantly recognised that he was on Earth. The Moon is our closest celestial body, our constant fellow traveller in our journey through the universe, and we are aware of its presence from the first moment we gaze upwards at the night sky.

We sing songs about it and tell stories about it; we use it to mark time; it creates our tides and stabilises our planet’s rotation; and, as an astronaut, George Taylor would know how crucial to the development of space travel landing on its surface was.  Luna is a celebration of that relationship with the Moon, in science, history, art, story and music.

All of that, in one hour?
Luna is probably closest to what used to be called a revue. It’s a collection of sketches, both silly and serious, songs, poems, puppetry sequences, and stories, that together explore how we are connected to the Moon. People familiar with the Horrible Histories TV series will recognise the format instantly.

We follow characters through the play, who grow and change, much as a sketch comedy like The Fast Show does.  And the nature of this format means that we can switch theatrical styles rapidly. We can see daft nonsense, next to serious reflection, next to a re-enactment of the Apollo 11 launch using household objects – whatever best suits the story we have to tell.

And why are you telling this story now? 
Saturday July 20, the day that we are performing at the Wardrobe, is the 50th anniversary to the day of the first moon landing and of Neil Armstrong’s legendary ‘one small step’.  What better way to celebrate this milestone of human endeavour and achievement than by celebrating the reasons why the Moon fascinates us so much?

Who is the play for?
Our company, Roustabout, is committed to creating theatre that is multi-generational, that children and adults can enjoy alongside each other, and for the same reasons. It’s a tall order – theatre is so used to presenting either theatre for adults, or theatre for young audiences.

But it is possible. Think of the appeal of a family Christmas show, or of Doctor Who. Both of these are inclusive and non-age-specific, and have a broad appeal. Luna is the same.

Robin Hemmings (one of Luna’s performers) and I worked together on a show for Bristol Old Vic called War Game, about the football matches in No Man’s Land in the First World War. In any one performance we would have families, schools’ parties, groups of adults, and veterans, all sitting together and enjoying the show in the same way.  Theatre should not be exclusive.

Does Luna have an ultimate message?
It is the universal experience of those who go into space that they look back at the Earth, and have a profound realisation of our place in the universe.

Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 and 13 astronaut, describes the experience of being able to make the Earth, and everything that he had ever known, disappear behind his thumb. It’s simultaneously spiritually uplifting and deeply sobering, and, at a point in history when we are rightly concerned about the future of the planet that we call home, very timely.

Who are Roustabout?
We are a new company based in Bristol, with a core team of three who have been working together for over ten years making theatre. I am a writer and director, who has made work locally for Bristol Old Vic, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Tobacco Factory Theatres and the egg, as well as theatres and companies across the UK.

Robin Hemmings is an actor and musician, who will be familiar to local audiences for War Game, Medusa, The Great Big Story Mix Up and Bath Time. Shaelee Rooke is an actor and comedian, whose work in Bristol includes Closer Each Day, the legendary improvised soap opera, This is Where We Live and Shaedates.

Last year we toured a show together for Oxford Playhouse called One Small Step (yes, it’s another space show…) and as we were sitting on the grass at Blenheim Palace, cutting out cardboard stars (the glamour of an actor’s touring life!), we decided that we wanted to collaborate together more. Hence Roustabout.

Why Roustabout?
The word ‘roustabout’ has many meanings. In Australia, a roustabout is an itinerant sheep farmer, taking their skills from job to job. In the US, a roustabout is an oil rig worker, again travelling to where their labour is most needed. By extension, roustabout is also used to describe a showman with a specialist skill who appears in travelling carnivals, circuses, and county fairs – a ‘carnie’.

And there’s a great Elvis Presley film called Roustabout, in which the King plays a motorcycle stunt rider performing on the Wall of Death, whilst singing rock’n’roll.  Take your pick!  I like to think we combine the best elements of all of these…

Luna is at the Wardrobe Theatre on July 20, 12pm & 3pm, £8 (under 3s free). For more info, visit


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