Theatre Reviews: Little Eagles at Hampstead Theatre

Rona Munro’s gripping play LITTLE EAGLES tells the story of the little known man who led the USSR into space.

LITTLE Eagles is the extraordinary story of the early days of the Soviet space programme and the mysterious chief designer Sergei Korolyov - its until now unsung hero.

Rona Munro’s gripping play tells the story of this remarkable man who led the USSR in the space race. It’s the story of the life and work of a brilliant engineer, who struggled to meet the military demands of his ruthless political masters, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, whilst devoting as much time as possible to his real passion, flying to the moon.

Korolyov dubs the pilots his “little eagles”, and he is fiercely protective of them whilst having to risk their lives battling to achieve his nation’s dreams of dominating space. Yuri Gagarin (Dyfan Dwyfor), the first cosmonaut who went into space 50 years ago, became a national hero for his exploits and his famous winning smile.

The play is perhaps overly long to hold your focus throughout, but the history of the first men in space is without doubt a fascinating subject. The military were more interested in the arms race, whilst conversely the scientists were driven by the possibilities of space adventure. But this is really the personal story of Korolyov himself, his lifelong relationship with a female doctor who saved his life when imprisoned in the gulag, his memories of the gulag which haunt him throughout, and his relationship with the “little eagles” themselves. A fascinating portrait of a flawed genius.

* Showing at Hampstead Theatre in Eton Avenue, NW3, until Saturday, June 18.