Review: How to Spot an Alien by Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd

This space saga undermines its message by being OTT in the SFX department

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 14 Aug 2018
32077 large
How to Spot an Alien

There's a lot to like in this energetic piece (for kids age five and up). The tale of an intergalactic conspiracy by a bunch of rotten aliens to kidnap kids, hypnotise them with TV, fatten them up with cakes, and devour them is told with all the slickness you'd expect from the North Walian arts centre. It's funny, physical, and feels unforced played in the round. The three-strong cast use the space well to play a host of characters, especially when it comes to using different entrance points to mark differences between characters and scenes. There's a lot going on, but it's never confusing.

But part of the reason it's never confusing is because it's all spelled out is such smothering fashion. In particular, it's the music and the lighting that wear quickly. No movement occurs without SFXs and a lighting bump; a soundtrack plays more or less consistently and always loudly. Sure, there's plenty of family theatre that creates thick, immersive textures. The real problem here, though, is that this is precisely against the moral of a story which warns against the soporific effects of easy-to-swallow television, where flashy lights, simple stories and a wall of sound assault the senses and strip kids of the need to work their brains. Physician, heal thyself.

There's a particularly excellent moment where Jonjo finds a spaceship. There's a moment of silence, out of which we hear a greeting – a four-note motif from its spaceshippy brain. This theme is then transformed, symphony-like, into a celebratory, techno-inspired piece. It's a neat way of taking the kernal of a challenging musical idea and doing something emotional with it. Otherwise, though, this is just popcorn.