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
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders