Review By Tessa Stickland
They Came From Uranus is a puppet show meets drag, starring Murray Raine as the sole performer and puppeteer.
Raine performs from inside a puppet theatre/tent. There are two bright green aliens either side of the puppet-stage. Each has a white cutout where the face should go. The left alien’s face is used to project images onto, and the right alien’s face is used for shadow puppets.
The puppet’s ‘stage’ within the tent has a pink neon sign above it reading “Busty Barb’s”. This stage-on-a-stage is where Raine’s “Humanette” puppets perform.
These puppets aren’t your ordinary puppets. They have short puppet bodies but a human face! Raine’s face is the face of the puppets. He’s in a black morph suit, has drag make-up on, and dons hats and wigs and cardboard cutouts and controls the short body of the puppets.
From inside the puppet tent, the black morph suit blends in with the black curtains. Paired with a border of neon lights framing the puppet tent, Raine’s real body can hardly be seen — creating the illusion of puppets with a human head.
Each Humanette puppet performs a drag number, lip syncing to classic throwback songs and modern hits. These performances are strung together by a camp-horror narrative: Sexually depraved aliens have fallen in love with burlesque star Miss Candy Carcrashian via wi-fi waves reaching all the way to Uranus. Their mission is to journey to earth and capture her.
This exposition takes place through narration and recorded dialogue, along with still image drawings of characters (projected onto the left alien’s face). Towards the start of the show some of this is also shown through shadow puppets — showing the alien spaceship flying through space.
This strings together the different songs and gives Raine time to swap puppets and accessories.
I like the general idea of the story, but it didn’t land for me. It felt too contrived and I wasn’t engaged. I was also a little confused, because it seemed like multiple levels of narration. There is a radio presenter telling the story (in the vein of an old school radio show). He’s both telling the audience, but also maybe exists in-world? Then there’s a news reporter giving updates and interviewing people. Plus the MC of the burlesque bar.
It would’ve been cleaner if the radio presenter and news reporter were merged into one character.
I think I could’ve been more engaged too if these narrators and other characters weren’t just represented by still images, but with simple animation. Even having their mouths move when they talk (e.g. just their jaws moving up and down, like a paper puppet).
Alternatively, have all of these characters as paper puppets. Just bobbing side to side as they talk. Of course, this would require a second puppeteer, as Raine couldn’t do it while changing main puppets.
It felt too flat for me to connect with, which is such a shame because the puppets themselves are so well made.
Unsurprisingly, as the title suggests, the humour in They Came From Uranus is rude and naughty. There’s a lot of crude comedy I enjoy. This particular vein isn’t my usual cup of tea, but it’s not bad. It’s going for a sexy, debaucherous vibe that I think would have benefited from a better audience.
The night I went, the crowd was mostly boomers. They just… didn’t get into the spirit of it all. (One of them really liked the dick puppet though (yes, there is a dick puppet. It somehow reminded me of the little mouth that comes out of a Xenomorph’s mouth (the alien from Alien))).
They seemed to enjoy the show well enough (I may have eavesdropped on them as we left), but they didn’t bring any energy into the room.
If you’ve been to a drag show, you know a good audience is important. The energy passed between audience and performer is like this increasing feedback loop. But it wasn’t there.
The 6pm time slot didn’t help either, as this show has much more of a late night feel. But, during a festival like Melbourne Fringe and at a hub venue like Trades Hall, performers don’t usually have a lot of choice.
The highlight of the show is the puppets. Each is detailed and lovingly constructed. They look professional and impressive. They’re functional while having their own unique flair.
I think my favourite puppet is the Cher puppet. In her second outfit, it’s a spookily accurate impression. The way her fingers are positioned is perfect.
If you’re looking for something sassy and naughter, They Came From Uranus might fit the bill. Plus, there's a puppet with boobs that can move individually!