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‘The Aliens’, at Bush Theatre, London – a small but perfectly formed venue. (It’s even smaller than Arcola!)

Posted on by Janet Awe
The Aliens, by Annie Baker

The Aliens, by Annie Baker

By the time we went to see this, the reviews were long out and it wasn’t looking good.  We went along with some trepidation – especially as Rashmi, my mate Almira’s husband and also a long-time friend of mine, was joining the four of us on one of our traditionally girls-only theatre nights.  If it was just us and it was rubbish, we could laugh it off.  But now our collective taste was going to be under scrutiny.

The fact that Bush Theatre is above a crap pub, next door to Shepherds Bush Empire, didn’t do anything to allay our fears.  Its theatre bar is literally the bar for the Walkabout Pub that houses it.  Home of many a drunken Australian stereotype.

But from the moment we walked into the actual theatre, I was hooked.  A tiny space, those sitting stage right, like us, had to walk across the only open space, presumably ‘the stage’ to get to their seats.

When some hairy, dreadlocked hippy swayed into the space and sat down at the table in the middle, it took me a good five minutes to clock that it was Ralph Little, best known for the Royale Family and (my guilty pleasure…) Two Pints of Lager & Packet of Crisps (before you judge me, have you seen the Gaz-sturbation episode where Gazza tries to loose weight to win back Donna? Crap TV Gold, that is!).

The Aliens, by Annie Baker
The Aliens, by Annie Baker

Ralph is Jasper. He’s soon joined by KJ, another longhaired hippy, played by The Office/Pirates of the Caribbean’s, Mackenzie Crook. It transpires that they’re sitting in the backyard of a restaurant, getting wrecked and generally shooting the breeze.  When Evan, the 17-year old bus boy, comes out to dump the rubbish, his concern about getting into trouble for letting these two wasters use the backyard as their sitting room, turns to wonderment at the insights they give him into life, music and drugs. Set over a summer in America, with Evan working to save money before college, what unfolds in front of us is the life of two happy-go-lucky, professional slackers.  As Jasper and KJ tempt Evan with spliffs and magic mushrooms, they reminisce about life, talk about their old band, The Aliens, and Jasper plays guitar.  Gradually, Evan gets drawn into their stories and their world and you can feel the youngster looking up to them and their worldy experience.  But then things change.  When Evan meets a girl he likes, his reaction to the crass advice that he gets from Jasper and KJ begs the question of who’s really the youngster and who’s the adult.  As things unfold further, there’s a realisation of the unfulfilled, unhappy lives that Jasper and KJ live.

I really enjoyed this play – from the script and the theatre, to the production and the acting.  The close proximity of the actors added to the sense of realism, making you feel like a fly on the wall in the midst of the action, rather than a detached audience. The script is really cleverly written. You learn about the lives of all three subtly but effectively. And there’s great attention to detail, even down the songs supposedly written by The Aliens, which are played and sung well by Ralph.  Halfway through, Rashmi nudges me to point out that even the song about equations that KJ sings is mathematically correct.

Olly Alexander makes his stage debut in The Aliens at the Bush Theatre. (Courtesy of the Curtis Brown agency.)

Whilst I do really like Ralph Little as a rule, my gut instinct usually tells me that I like him because he seems like a good bloke, rather than because he’s a good actor. But here he proved any cynics wrong, stepping up to the mark against Mackenzie Crook to turn in a really believable performance. So, it must be a bugger to be overshadowed by the talents of a young pup like Olly Alexander, who played Evan. He pulled off just the right balance of nervous-young-kid- trying-to-find-his-feet-in-the-world, and someone approaching adulthood and realising that sometimes your idols aren’t as perfect as you think.

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