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Monday, 29 August 2016

The Camden Fringe 2016:We Are Not Alone


In the near future, Earth is expecting the arrival of aliens. During this time of unprecedented apprehension it is important that you are prepared. Worried? don't be, there is a workshop to support you...



I do love a really good scifi movie, you can't beat the scenes of impending dread as yet another interplanetary nightmare threatens to wipe out life as we know it. Independence Day took this to another level and I get a sneaky sort of twisted enjoyment about seeing well known global landmarks reduced to rubble. The aliens aren't always bent on destruction as E.T demonstrated but when you think about it most of the aliens that have featured onscreen have not exactly been friendly. 'We Are Not Alone' is a short play that focuses on the, quite frankly sensible, idea of how to prepare for alien visitation. The complication here is that no one knows what the extra terrestrial game plan is, so a two pronged approach should prepare the general populace. Theatre that is dependent on audience participation can be difficult to achieve and, if not handled well, normally results in stony silence and desperate and embarrassing failure for the actors. I have witnessed wonderful moments of theatrical brilliance but I have also had to endure some of the most painful moments when actors have loudly crashed and burnt. The idea behind this particular outing looks strong but you just don't know what you are going to get until it starts.

Well, it started well and a quick body scan as I entered the theatre added to the authentic, if low budget, workshop concept. The fact that it was low budget actually enhances the reality that a sudden and unexpected alien incursion wouldn't leave much time for extensive and showy multimedia presentations. I could fully believe that our government would be very likely to just shove a couple of experts in front of us to deliver whatever message they could make up. Captain Sam Reynolds is convinced that we are in for an all out massacre and nothing Dr Alex Parker can say will convince her otherwise. Anna Ruben is fantastic as the straight faced embodiment of the military mind and her interplay with Sean Joseph Young is wonderful. Parker is almost dizzy with anticipation and can't wait to shake hands with the aliens as we embark on a new era of intergalactic space buddying. What was supposed to be a workshop that informs the general public soon degenerates into a cold war with the occasional snarky remark thrown into the air. Young is expert in engaging with the audience and involving them in the brain storming of ideas on how to best greet our new friends. Although the play is well scripted the beauty of partially improvised theatre is you can never be entirely sure what the audience are going to throw at you. Nothing throws either Ruben or Young off their pace and both provide a surprisingly believable dimension to what is a slightly left field premise.


Writer, Kate Webster, is clearly someone who knows her SciFi and 'We Are Not Alone' is skillfully and intelligently written but with its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek. Webster even manages to pose an interesting question in that it is surely somewhat of a peculiar assumption that all aliens don't wear clothes. Given the coldness of space and different climates on other planets this would seem to be a rather obvious mistake! Yet, despite the numerous movies I have enjoyed it had never occurred to me. Webster has also woven into the play a number of scenes which serve as an underlining of the plays main theme of communication. Parker's difficult and upsetting relationship with his elderly mother is a sadly familiar one and his attempts to connect with her were beautifully pictured. Reynolds has a near impossible task of trying to find common ground with her teenage son but finds it with a strategising video game. My only slight gripe was that it wasn't especially clear why these scenes were positioned in the middle of a workshop. This may have been down to the minimalistic staging and budget constraints but the use of two chair at the back of the stage area did mean that the 'cut scenes' were separated away from the main workshop scenario. I would also have liked a slightly longer running time as I felt things were just beginning to develop nicely and then they were concluded. With a running time at approx 40 minutes and a premise that is so strong the workshop scenarios could be deepened considerably. I would have loved to see members of the audience brought up to the stage to act out particular scenarios posed to them. I have endured many workshops which insist on hammering their point home with a spot of amateur improv!

As a clearly billed 'Work in Progress' play, We Are Not Alone hits the mark and I would go further and say I have witnessed many theatrical concepts that are supposedly fully developed which are considerably less entertaining and effective. I would welcome the opportunity to see a longer and further developed version at a later date. It takes quite a lot to get me out into London on a Sunday night, on this occasion it was absolutely worth the effort.


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