Saturday, March 2, 2024

UFO

UFO
Writer: Kirby Medway
Director: Solomon Thomas
SBW Stables Theatre
April 20 – April 29, 2023

Once again, Griffin Theatre has brought experimental and absorbing theatre to its small stage in UFO. While the narrative asks some serious questions of the world we live in while playing with some well-known science fiction motifs, the process of telling the story is completely bewitching.

A UFO – suggested by a large panel of lights – has landed on a golf course and like its many fictional precursors sits quietly either waiting to destroy the earth or attempting to communicate. In this case, it is assumed to be the latter and through a system of flashing lights. Two young people have been hired to document its activity which proves so boring and so persistent, it provokes one of them to question the validity of their task, and the other to run out of paper which causes a major crisis.

The question of relative size is ingeniously overcome. The golf course is reproduced on waist-high tables complete with a fairy tale inspired clubhouse, a pond with ducks, and a low hillock around which four actors (Matt Abotomey, James Harding, Angela Johnston, Tahlee Leeson) manoeuvre miniature 3D printed puppet versions of themselves and give them voice. The puppet’s actions are live-videoed and appear as slow-motion animation on two screens above the set.

The miniatures (design, Chris Howell, Sol Thomas) look like old-fashioned wooden dolls on the screens, an impression supported by the wires that give them limited arm and neck movements, and which fits with the fairy tale club/doll house. Add to this the charm of the ducks, who turn out to be a very important element in the story, and the duck version of the folk-tale goose-girl, and sci-fi and fairy tale come together, a fitting match, as science fiction is the folk-tale of the present. Through the many versions of aliens – from mobile whiplashing plants to ET – we deal with anxieties about the unknown.

In this encounter of the more-or-less third kind,  the awful alien invader gets a mention in the form of a spider in a rather Our Man in Havana (film version) sequence and is linked to the paper chase. The dialogue between the two observers while comedic contains some Kafkaesque reflections on bureaucracy. When strictures on more economical note taking are handed out rather than paper – and paper has clearly been used up unproductively by the indecisive decision makers – the more rebellious data collector exclaims something along the lines of “if they want us not to do our job properly then if we’re not doing it properly we are doing our job properly”.

While there is both bite and charm in the story, the main intent of UFO is to visually immerse the audience in the performance. In this aim it is entirely successful. We watch the miniatures as the actors manipulate them, and the actors as they manipulate the miniatures, and we watch the actors as they video the different sequences and then screen as the story unfolds. We are constantly moving our focus, actively watching rather than passively receiving. It’s exciting.

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