Are we alone in the universe? Does extraterrestrial life exist? In Signals, two data analysts search the skies for the answers. Working in a radio telescope and scanning space for signals of alien life may sound exciting, but in reality, you don’t even get to look at the night sky. Instead, there are endless nights scanning distant galaxies on a computer. Alone, with only themselves for company, they have done this job for three years. Will they ever find anything? If they do, what next? Will Brian Cox steal their thunder and announce their discovery to the world?
The comedic success of Signals centres around depicting the lengths to which the two data analysts will go, in order to cope with the mind-numbing boredom of their job, from reading New Scientists Magazine, drinking serious amounts of tea, eating Jaffa Cakes, to playing wickedly funny games of Articulate. However, it instantly becomes clear that the job isn’t all it’s cracked out to be. They spend long hours in a dingy office that is infested with mice. It’s in the middle of nowhere, the phone signal is crap, and their only form of communication with the outside world is through a landline.
Signals is a two-hander, performed by Immie Davies and Eve Cowley. A delightful relationship is crafted that shows the constant bickering and arguing of a couple that spends far too much time together. Over the course of the play, the characters warm to each other, and the two actors share a fantastic rapport. They are both competitive and bitchy, and have great banter between them. They even have a tally chart of who has the most annoying habits. The pair bounce off each other, creating a believable and amusing friendship.
Alongside this humour is a profound philosophical debate about the vastness of the universe and one’s place within it. It is thought provoking and highlights the insignificance of our lives when thinking of the entire cosmos. The incomprehensible expanse of undiscovered galaxies in space is quite a daunting thought, making you feel quite inconsequential. It certainly puts Brexit into perspective.
At points, Signals becomes confusing. Not because of the scientific jargon that is in the script, that is to be expected when it is set in a radio telescope, but because the play’s passage of time isn’t always clear. It becomes difficult to discern whether this is the same night shift, or whether several shifts have happened. It all blends into one. However, this may be intentional, as their job is so tedious, that it would naturally be the same each day.
In a small studio space, I believe that a closer attention to detail in the set design and props could have paid dividends. It is blatantly obvious that the laptops that both analysts are using aren’t switched on. The actors aimlessly type on computers with black screens, which feels disappointing. When the audience is in such close proximity to the set, things like this can be seen.
Nonetheless, Signals is an entertaining comedy with a brilliant friendship at its core. At 50 minutes, it is a short and sweet insight into the not so glamorous side of scientific discovery.