Little Eagles, Hampstead, London
King James Bible, Shakespeare's Globe, London
David Mamet Double Bill, Arcola, London

The story of the scientist behind the Sputnik space programme will never get off the launch pad in this underpowered production

To go where no man has gone before, or no leading British playwright anyway: that was Rona Munro's mission on penning Little Eagles, a biodrama about Sergei Korolyov, a hitherto "unsung hero", according to the pre-publicity for this premiere, launching an RSC season in Hampstead.

Everyone has heard of Yuri Gagarin and his Earth-orbiting voyage, 50 years ago this month. Korolyov was the Russian mastermind and chief designer who oversaw both the Sputnik and Vostok programmes in the space race, until he died prematurely in 1966.

Little Eagles begins with Korolyov's career in a near-fatal early dip. Imprisoned in a grey Siberian labour camp, Darrell D'Silva's Korolyov is half-frozen and beaten by vicious guards, but proves to be survivor with a dream and tenacious drive.

Re-employed by the authorities, he develops Cold War ballistic missiles, then dares to advocate a space-conquering programme instead. Impressing Brian Doherty's swaggering Khrushchev, he becomes the top dog in this enterprise, ousting the colleague who formerly denounced him, John Mackay's twitchy Valentin Glushko, for a while at least.

Post-Khrushchev, as Korolyov struggles to remain in favour, Little Eagles portrays him as tragic hero, doomed, in part, because he's stand-out figure in a system that swears by mass, egalitarian levelling. A Red Army commanding officer, Greg Hicks's Geladze, asks suspicious questions and – getting hot-headed responses – turns into Korolyov's potential nemesis. Yet the scientist is his own enemy, too, working himself to death to maintain safety standards in the face of slashed funding – dreading the death of a cosmonaut.

Some of this is gripping, but the narrative struggles to keep its multiple balls in the air. There are bemusing gaps, sketchy subplots and a scene introducing us to Gagarin (an eager, confident Dyfan Dwyfor) which looks confusingly like a flashback to Korolyov's youth. The dialogue, veering into the semi-poetic, has a scattering of vivid descriptive images. But in Roxana Silbert's production, even the aerial choreography is underwhelming. Little Eagles is, alas, no high flyer.

A spirit of epic adventure has taken hold, more winningly, at Shakespeare's Globe. Artistic director Dominic Dromgoole hasn't beamed himself up to the Starship Enterprise quite yet, but he'll be going truly global in 2012, playing host to 38 international companies. Meanwhile, throughout Easter week, the timber-framed theatre has been presenting a cover-to-cover recitation of the King James Bible – the seminal translation of 1611.

The session I caught was certainly going to test just how good a book this is, for it included Joshua and Judges, with chunks that are just lists detailing which cities were divvied up to which clans, as the "children of Israel" tried to secure a foothold. That these passages proved mesmerising in performance was a little short of a miracle. I speak as a committed atheist, but there is an enchanting simplicity and intimacy to Jacqueline Somerville's staging, with a handful of actors taking turns, not preaching from a tome, but wandering across the bare wooden stage as they address us directly, as storytellers (one earphone in, playing them the text).

Daniel Langley – an accomplished newcomer – even managed to make the interminable lists seem gently teasing, and magically conjured up glimpses of a distant land – the curve of coastline in a tiny sweep of his hand. Elsewhere among the cast there was some fluffing. But dramatically hair-raising stories suddenly emerge. ("Then Jael Heber's wife ...went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples.") And while this translation's lyrical repetitions ("Libnah with her suburbs, and Jattir, and Eshtemoa, with their suburbs ...") are as soothing as a 17th-century shipping forecast, what emerges from this Old Testament reading is a disturbing, still topical portrait of unending tribal conflicts and religious fundamentalism justifying slaughter.

In the Arcola's double bill of David Mamet's rarely aired Lakeboat and Prairie du Chien, the latter is a creepy and elusive short, set on a 1910 night train, where guns may be pulled in a poker game being played in parallel with a spooky tale told about a murder. Lakeboat is an early play in which an explosively moody crew on a cargo boat reveals flashes of sensitivity and despair, confiding in college boy Dale. He, roughing it as their cook, believes that his predecessor met a nasty end.

This collection of motor-mouthed snippets is shot through with misogynistic anecdotes, which can get wearisome. Director Abbey Wright doesn't always get the pacing right, but Helen Goddard's corroded, studded-iron set is terrific, and Wright has assembled an impressive cast.

'Little Eagles' (020-7722 9301) to 7 May; Recital of the King James Bible (020-7401 9919) today and tomorrow; 'Lakeboat' and 'Prairie du Chien' (020-7503 1646) to 7 May

Next Week:

Kate Bassett relives The Passion, a three-day event in Port Talbot, with Michael Sheen as Christ

Theatre Choice

Wife to James Whelan is an overlooked gem by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy, whose career ended when in 1937 the Abbey, Dublin, turned down this play, a portrait of love and friendship among small-town lads and lasses. Gavin McAlinden's London fringe premiere boasts an admirable young ensemble at the up-and-coming New Diorama, to Sat.

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003