Rona Munro's Little Eagles tells the true story of Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov, chief designer and unsung hero of the Soviet space programme. Under the leadership of this remarkable man, the USSR trounced the Americans in the space race throughout the fifties and for much of the sixties, achieving a series of firsts including the first human in space and Earth orbit.
The play was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company to mark the 50th anniversary of the first flight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, one of Korolyov's 'little eagles'. It was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 16 April 2011.
The play charts the transformation in Korolyov’s life from his humble beginnings as a dying prisoner in one of Stalin’s punishing gulags to national hero after pioneering a rocket-development programme. But success came at a high price – Korolyov was only allowed to pursue his passion for space exploration as long as he continued to make long-range missiles for the government. A combination of ill health, the Cuban missile crisis and seismic shifts within the USSR itself meant that this brilliant engineer was never able to capitalise on his success.
In an author's note in the published script, Munro writes that 'Little Eagles is intended as the first part of a trilogy of plays about the years of space exploration that formed such a significant backdrop to my childhood. ... In writing about Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov and the others who inhabit this play, I have had to take some glaring liberties with time and space and imagined events and emotions which may never have occurred or, if they did, may not have occurred as I’ve chosen to portray them. I’ve invented some characters, condensed others and turned great chunks of detailed human history into a few short scenes. I don’t think I’d have been doing my job if I hadn’t dared to mess things around like this, it was a very necessary outcome to the wonderful wrestling match any writer goes through turning real events (in this case on an epic scale) into drama.'
Little Eagles was the second play by Munro to be commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company following her earlier play The Indian Boy (2006).
The RSC production was directed by Roxana Silbert and designed by Ti Green. The cast included Darrell D'Silva (as Korolyov), Dyfan Dwyfor, Brian Doherty, Noma Dumezweni, Greg Hicks and Samantha Young.