Area 51 is a play produced for the Melbourne Fringe Festival produced by Ancient Pickle, a local production company. Unfortunately on the opening night there was a very small audience, which impacted on the delivery of the show. There were also some minor issues with the production side as well, and a few first night jitters. Nevertheless, the actors soldiered on, and delivered a show that certainly has potential to catch the attention of theatre-goers in the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Because really, who doesn’t like an absurdist-esque comedy about alien prison breaks, sulky air-headed teenagers, and secret laboratories under Melbourne?
One of the biggest positives about the show is the writing. Although the plot of the play is engaging and ends in a rather abrupt and unusual fashion (complete with a strange dance number and a last scene involving a cursing engineer), the dialogue is on point. It manages to blend the melodramatic and egotistical ramblings of an alien queen with the usual sci-fi gobbledygook and social-media obsessed teenage speak highly effectively. The jokes also, for the most part, aren’t too forced, and work within the context of the absurdist setting. The fourth wall breaks are used sparingly and effectively, rather than being beaten over the head with them.
The props also deserve some recognition. Ranging from furbies (those odd 90’s gremlin-esque toys) through to desks and missile cut-outs, the production team certainly worked hard. The costumes were also well done, with a healthy mix of serious and absurd (the primary antagonist “Q” looked somewhere a mix of an American inmate and a member of KISS), and this was even acknowledged by a few throwaway lines. But the greatest prop has to be the “sword wings” worn by Q. Mechanical wings have been attached to the back of the actress, which makes her appear even bigger than anyone else in the cast, and is even used to behead a stuffed toy alien at one point.
Let’s be real, any play that has a set of functioning sword-wings as part of a costume has to come highly recommended.
The acting felt a little flat during the performance, but that was entirely due to the tiny audience, and therefore the lack of laughter. The actors were all of fairly similar calibre, although the alien conqueror Q’s actress sometimes slipped up her lines. Her performance was also constrained by the size of the venue and intimacy of the audience – instead of loud and dramatic as her lines ought to be, the actress had to keep her volume down, making the lines more sinister than ridiculous. Nevertheless, it still worked, especially when she was being devious and cunning. The other actors really nailed their parts as well, from the anxious and slightly cruel scientist through to the bewildered and pretty dumb teenager, although again, elements of their performances could have been enhanced by a larger audience in a larger venue.
One of the biggest issues was the scene changes. Whilst done fairly quickly and professionally by the actors, there were still numerous periods where they lasted a little too long and broke the rhythm of the performance. One way this could have been avoided was perhaps have some background sounds playing during the changes – there were some in the performance (sirens, explosions, etc), so perhaps something like that, or other odd sounds to fill in the silences could have helped bring the audience across the scenes more smoothly.
However, despite these negatives, the play itself was very enjoyable. Overall, it was a fun and slightly silly theatre piece that definitely is worth checking out – if only for the awesome sword wings in action.
Area 51 is on at Gasworks Arts Park as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival until the 24th of September. The show starts at 7pm, and tickets range between $12 to $15.