Melbourne Fringe 2016

Area 51, Melbourne Fringe 2016

0 Comments 20 September 2016

Words by Fabrice Wilmann

As I entered the small basement-like space of Clover Club in Albert Park, I was greeted by the now-sombre sounds of Starman by David Bowie. As I left, the entire cast was dancing to the theme song from Men in Black – donning mandatory black sunglasses of course.

AREA 51 is a spectacle that exists somewhere in between these two pop-culture phenomena –  allusions to science fiction are blended with a comically witty, urban flavour. Though not always seamless in its execution, the performance is grounded by a compelling story with nuanced ideas of solidarity and acceptance.

The story begins innocently enough, with the vapid Jessica (who later serves as an unorthodox hero of sorts) getting dumped by boyfriend Brad – forging a motif that will run throughout the performance: “I’m a strong, independent woman,” Jessica screams, time and time again.

We first get a sense of the supernatural, other-worldliness of the piece when an unconvincing Mulder and Scully make their debut. Though their characters are obvious satires of the original, it feels a bit misplaced and jarring.

The real tension of the performance comes when we are introduced to the aliens, specifically the evil, world-conquering Kew. After being released from her prison by the deliriously dumb Jessica, Kew is able to wreak havoc and manipulate the other aliens on the premises to join her army. The green-and-red spotted alien brothers are a particular comic highpoint – unlike the other characters, these two appear completely unadulterated, as though they are improvising throughout the entire piece. They are undoubtedly the Timon and Pumbaa of the sci-fi world, and are equally deserving of a spin-off.

The other primary character of note is the assistant scientist: a reformed blue-skinned alien whose demeanour and progression to self-assuredness is somewhat of an homage to the character of Winifred ‘Fred’ Burkley from Angel. The interplay between the assistant scientist and the monstrous Kew (orange overalls, purple sword-wings and gold-tinged claws) carry the greatest weight in the piece. Through Kew’s manipulation, the assistant scientist begins to question where her loyalties lie, and whether she could ever be friends with humans.

Though the nuanced storytelling allows the audience to draw what conclusions they may, the crux of the performance is more concerned with drawing laughs and pushing boundaries: from ingenious creations like the toaster-blaster; breaking the fourth wall and comparing tropes of theatre against those of film; and confirming what we all suspected in the 90s – that Furbies truly are creatures of evil mischief and mind control.

This performance by up-and-coming Melbourne based theatre company Ancient Pickle is a comic exploration of pop-culture and sci-fi tropes, and a must-see event for anyone who ever wanted to watch a hero battle aliens while taking selfies.

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