Interview: Theatre director Niall Henry discusses Yuri Gagarin, the focus of Jocelyn Clarke’s First Cosmonaut

'He was the very first person to see the Earth... it had a big impact on him'

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Interview: Theatre director Niall Henry discusses Yuri Gagarin, the focus of Jocelyn Clarke’s First Cosmonaut

It wasn't quite Neil Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind’ but it still made history. In April 1961, in a little Vostok spacecraft, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into outer space. However, for director Niall Henry of Sligo-based Blue Raincoat theatre company, the most interesting thing about Gagarin’s journey is what he saw when he looked back.

‘When I did some research, I realised he was the very first person to see the Earth,’ he said. ‘Since we fell out of the trees in sub-Saharan Africa, he was the first to look back and see us, and it had a big impact on him.’ Blue Raincoat is one of Ireland’s better known ensemble companies, with a style which combines an interest in modernist drama and new writing with a background in movement and mime. In recent years they have been popular visitors to Scotland with adaptations of Flann O’Brien and plays by Brecht and Ionesco.

In Jocelyn Clarke’s play, the company is transformed into poor travelling players from the Soviet Bloc. Henry said: ‘They have a cart, a ladder, things you would have on a collective farm, but they assemble and build a rocket out of bits and pieces, which is a beautiful metaphor for what humanity did.’

Traverse Theatre, Thu 5–Sat 7 Jun.

First Cosmonaut

The story of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Presented by Blue Raincoat Theatre Company.

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