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Review: UFO at Brand X at The East Sydney Community and Arts Centre

Review By James Ong

It’s hard to call UFO, the first show of The Flying Nun’s 2020 season, a play. Rather, a carefully designed mix of puppetry, film, animation and voice work. Ultimately, what is brought to the stage of the East Sydney Community and Arts Centre is an experimental form of live stop-motion animation that had me thoroughly rapt for its one-hour runtime.

The main conceit of the show comes in its medium-bending theatre-in-miniature style. The entire show takes place in a 1:8 scale model of a golf course and adjacent house with articulated human figures working as out characters. To bring these inanimate objects to a glorious state of animation are four actors that not only move and voice these figures, but also capture the action on camera, which then shown on a main screen at the back of the stage. A lot of credit must be given to these performers (Matthew Abotomey, James Harding, Tahlee Leeson and Harry McGee) as they are tasked with finding and converting emotion and humour with a unfamiliar toolset. Using these tools however, the wider team of creatives (lead by director/videographer Solomon Thomas) have crafted an intriguing experience that explores and experiments with cinematography, scale, shadows and soundscapes to help bridge the visual gap for the audience.

We open on two men laying in a golf course in the middle of the night. Before them in a behemoth of an alien spacecraft, gleaming with rhythmic, glowing lights. From here we follow four rural Australians, attempting to find meaning the peculiar situation. Though a heady concept, the story aimed for minimalism so that the designers and performers had room to do their thing and explore the sandbox of their imaginations.

An element that I’m struggling to decipher is the seeming inconsistency of the show’s rules. We spend a large chunk of the opening simply establishing how this experimental medium works. In the first half we stick to a series of stills, with particular care taken to not capture any of the human hands or bodies that are involved, and therefore maintaining our suspension of disbelief.

However in the second half of the show, these rules and conventions begin to flex and bend until we are in an entirely different wheelhouse with video, pre-recorded content and human interaction. The (relatively) monstrous human hands of the operators are now part of the show and feature much more prominently. Perhaps this symbolises the breaking down of established norms and structure in the face of otherworldly threat, but to me it feels a bit quick to break a convention that has only just been established. That being said, the final product was much more engaging than what we started with and helped lend an oddly irreverent humour to the proceedings.

While this production was utterly strange simply by its unfamiliar form, I found myself continually amused by the team’s inventiveness and creativity and left with a sense of anticipation to see the format pop up again. As the form continues to grow and evolve, I am eager to see just where the limits lie.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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