Theatre in Wales

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Alien Kidnappers Alert

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

Theatr Clwyd & Paines Plough- How to Spot an Alien , Roundabout @ Summerhall, Edinburgh , August-11-18
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by Theatr Clwyd & Paines Plough- How to Spot an Alien “Go on!” says Katherine Pearce with an outstretched arm and forefinger pointing towards the exit of Paines Plough's dome structure. This has to be a first. Audience members are being invited to depart, if they lack the stomach for what is to follow. Charlotte O’Leary has said it straight “If you want a happy ending you're not going to get it!” The audience has been well warmed before the start and none takes up the invitation.

The cast of three is on the 6-metre-diameter circular performance space when we enter. The children in the audience are their targets of attention. They high-five and chat. Jack Wilkinson talks superheroes with an eight-year in a Spidey t-shirt. A spider features in Georgia Christou's script. He is Albert the stunt spider, the companion of twelve-year-old Jonjo, brother to sister Jelly.

The other Clywd-Paines Plough co-productions have done urban angst and corporate satire but “How to Spot an Alien” is the tough one. Ten year olds and under are going to watch or they are going to twitch. As it turns out they are rapt, and for three good reasons. In fact they are not so different from any other audience. They want a narrative that pumps, they want linguistic vitality and physical action. The language bounces. Georgia Christou coins a nice line to convey indifference “I don't care a monkey's knickers about your feelings.”

All great stories contain cadences of others. An unsettling new relative appears in the absence of a parent- that is the universal step-parent. Katherine Pearce unleashes a stentorian fierceness in the role of Aunt Lena. There is a hint of Hansel and Gretel when Jelly fears that they are being fed and fattened for purposes that are not good. On another planet the kidnappers of overly curious snot-buckets are vulnerable to mirrors and daylight.

Director Steph O'Driscoll keeps the momentum going with an impressive amount of physical theatre. Jennifer Jackson and Simon Caroll-Jones are co-movement directors across all the three productions. Dominic Kennedy is sound designer for the complex soundtrack. Peter Small's lighting has a particular challenge. The unique venue is lit by 500 LED lights. The performance space is shaded blue to match the primary colours of the costume. All three actors wear differing combinations of blue and black. The LED lights allow some particular effects such as spelling out numerals.

All good plots need a frisson of undercurrent to make them work. Aunt Lena is genuinely unsettling. But the twelve-year olds demonstrate the initiative and daring of all good spirited junior heroes. And, despite the warnings from the start, it ends nicely after all.

“How to Spot an Alien” is a treat.

As a footnote Charlotte O'Leary is a year out of RWCMD. Before that it was the discipline of the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre. Once again that company reveals itself as the greatest incubator of acting talent on the planet.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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