It's 1974 and Beatrice and Brian Tinsley, both scientists, are in the kitchen of their Dallas, Texas home arguing about whose career should take precedence and how to manage childcare.

Forty-four years on, this discussion feels uncomfortably relevant and Chelsea McEwan Millar, as Beatrice, and Matt Baker, as Brian, do an excellent job of portraying the seemingly insurmountable tension that this can (still) place on a marriage.

But their lives were no kitchen-sink drama so it feels like the story deserves more. More sparkle, perhaps?

Beatrice Tinsley, born in the United Kingdom but raised in New Zealand, was a trailblazing astronomer who made far-reaching contributions to cosmology but was, during her brief life, frequently overlooked.


Bright Star argues this was because she was a woman in a man's world. Then again, if Stuart Hoar's version of Beatrice is to be believed it could have been because she was dogmatic, haughty and condescending. Would we say this if she'd been a man behaving like this? Maybe not, but we might say he was a bully and a know-it-all and not have offered him a job, either.

It's just as well McEwan Millar turns in a stellar performance, allowing us to see Beatrice's irritations, otherwise the character could become rather unlikeable — and, no, we don't have to like her but we do have to be able to connect to feel and empathise with her frustrations.

Some other characters in Beatrice's orbit feel too one-dimensional. David Aston, as her vicar father Edward Hill, seems to exist just to set up a conflict between theology and cosmology; Lisa Chappell, as Beatrice's best friend, Andrea (why they are friends is a mystery) to highlight the lot of career-less women, reduced to Stepford Wives, in an era when women weren't even allowed their own credit cards.

Luckily, experienced actors of Aston and Chappell's calibre are able to bring weight and depth to their performances while Bruce Phillips, as Professor Furstmere, steals every scene he's in especially when, dressed as Santa Claus, all he can give to Beatrice is continued misogyny.

Making the domestic drama relatable is an easier task than incorporating the science in an interesting and relevant way into Bright Star. It's here that, with Beatrice trying to explain theories and concepts, the play struggles with the set-pieces sounding — and feeling — too set up. Instead of losing ourselves, we're all too aware we're in the theatre watching a play and wondering whether it could have been structured differently.

Visual projections, although striking, accentuate this and seem to be at odds with conventional staging. Still, Hoar is to be commended for attempting to shine some light on Beatrice Tinsley's life and times and Plumb Productions for bringing the story, with some fine performances, to the stage.

What: Bright Star
Where & when: Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, until Sunday, September 16
Reviewed by Dionne Christian