UFO - Griffin Theatre Company (NSW)
A re:group performance collective production for Griffin Lookout. Written by Kirby Medway. Directed by Solomon Thomas.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Griffin Theatre, Darlinghurst 18 - 29 April
- Remember when you played with your figurines and thought about filming their stories? re:group takes this to a theatrical level -
For as long as human beings have been able to look up into the sky, we’ve had a fascination with beings beyond our world and what would happen if they were to arrive here in our part of the solar system. Just as Orson Welles threw a country into chaos with his radio play War of the Worlds, storytellers have been creating different tales of UFOs and speculative fiction tales of what happens when they land. Performance collective re:group runs with this idea and takes great joy in playing with the landscape of a time in place after a UFO lands and the powers of bureaucracy that come into play for those assigned to monitor it.
Director Solomon Thomas and writer Kirby Medway harness a sense of play with UFO. Through the utilisation of 3D printing to create miniature figurines of the four main cast (Matt Abotomey, James Harding, Angela Johnston and Tahlee Leeson) as well as the use of live videography, Thomas and Medway create an engaging and atmospheric tale that blends theatrical and multimedia spaces together.
Images by Lucy Parakhina @lucyparakhina
Entering the space, audiences are reminded to resist from getting close to or peering into the set in front of them. Three different tables are set in the centre of the stage, one featuring a grand two-story house, the second holding a dilapidated shed and array of ducks, the third a simple grassy knoll on which to sit. In front of it all glows twelve ominous lights from the UFO around which the plot revolves.
Beginning with Abotomey and Johnston’s characters counting the sequence of lights from the UFO, it becomes known that they have been sitting for hours completing this task and they are swiftly running out of paper. In the house, preoccupied with mysterious work is Harding's character, Glen, and exiled to duck-watching duty, Leeson’s character sits isolated in the shed.
Taking turns voicing their miniatures and manipulating the cameras in the space, the actors are exquisitely focused on every aspect of the story. Thomas takes great care to direct the action on the theatrical stage, but also how the actors use the stills from the camera’s live feed to project the filmic language on the screens behind. Close ups are used for moments of humour whereas low dutch angles create size and proximity. The blending of both film and theatrical techniques is marvellous to watch.
Whilst watching UFO, I was reminded of myself playing with my old figurines recording their superhero tales on my Panasonic video camera - you know, the one that needed actual tape to record on. The puppets themselves, designed by Thomas and Chris Howell, are extremely versatile, moving, shifting and able to transport their bodies from standing to sitting positions at different points in the story. Miri Badger’s puppet modelling is reminiscent of an oil painting, adding an artistic flair to the overall design of the miniatures.
"...you would be doing yourself a disservice by not letting yourself escape into a sense of childlike wonder."
As the story progresses, the single still shots that are used to establish a slow and tense pace, slowly evolves into live camera feeds as the miniature characters become more disillusioned with their job of monitoring the near-lifeless UFO. You can’t help but become so attached to the puppets instead of looking at the actors to tell the story, as each is imbued with their own personality throughout.
For such a tech-heavy show, it was clearly of high importance that the actors were able to be ready for any and all mishaps that could occur. An example of this came when Leeson’s camera decided not to work, but in true and confident form, Leeson informed the crew of the battery needing changing, swiftly exited the stage and returned to continue, almost as if it was part of the telling of the story. The applause that came afterwards was justified.
UFO may not be your average run-of-the-mill piece of theatre, but neither does it aim to be. The experimental use of play in both theatrical and multimedia aspects has always been at the heart of what re:group does, and UFO continues this. If your mind is not open to a more experimental use of theatre, then you may not find the most joy from UFO, but you would be doing yourself a disservice by not letting yourself escape into a sense of childlike wonder.
Writer: Kirby Medway
Director / Video Designer: Solomon Thomas
Sound Designer: Tom Hogan
UFO Design: Dylan Tonkin
Puppet Design: Chris Howell, Solomon Thomas
Puppet Painting: Miri Badger
Set Designer: Angus Callander
Cast: Matt Abotomey, James Harding, Angela Johnston, Tahlee Leeson
Creative Consultants: Hannah Goodwin, Tessa Leong, Jenni Medway, Mark Rogers
Stage Management / Technical Assistance: Annika Bertinat, Jessica Henley-Sadgrove
Accessibility Services: Steve Wilson-Alexander
Creative Producer: Malcolm Whittaker
Administration: Intimate Spectacle
UFO has been developed with the support of Australia Council for the Arts, Brand X, Erth Visual & Physical Inc., HotHouse Theatre, Merrigong Theatre Company and the PlayKing Foundation