Review By Rowan Brunt
From the outset there has been much anticipation for the whimsical and intriguing elements that make up UFO by Kirby Medway and Solomon Thomas, presented by re:group at SBW Stables Theatre, Griffin Theatre. The visual elements in itself harken to miniature doll sets, puppetry, and incorporate elements of stop motion film that is both child like and curious, but also adds to the supernatural element of the piece.
To begin, one cannot ignore the incredible detail and commitment to their artistic practice from the cast and creators of UFO. They seem to take the theatrical elements of “traditional theatre” and are always looking for new ways to welcome the audience in, heighten, and tell a story that is unique, but also, bespoke to that script.
The story of UFO focuses on four people’s response to a UFO landing at the edge of a golf course and the investigation that follows to figure out what that object really is, what is going to happen next and uncover the big why. There are many elements of science fiction, and conspiracy theories that are peppered throughout this piece, but also a light-hearted humour and playfulness. At the core of this piece, UFO is exploring how each individual and humans at large respond in times of crisis. In retrospect, this is an element that got a little lost within the piece only because there was so much for the audience to take in.
Director, and co-creator, Solomon Thomas has built this work with such detail and precision, I and what I can only imagine a lot of planning and butcher paper to make this show and staging move so seamlessly. To not only consider the pacing and tone of the work through the storyline, but also to direct his cast through a secondary technical role with the live cinema and minutares is commendable. And I do wonder with this piece, what came first the story and inquiry or the desire to expand their artistic repertoire and explore deeper an exciting new practice. The set design by Angus Callander has a clear vision and references clay animation used a lot in early ABC and BBC children’s programming as well as that creepy doll house at your great aunts house, which gives a wonderful feeling of nostalgia. There was many times I wanted to lean in just to see more detail in the tiny 1:8 figurines and marvel at the work. Big shoutout to Miri Badger’s wonderful modelling with design by Chris Howell and Solomon Thomas. The blackness of expression on each of the models is both eerie and slightly humorous, which again is perfect for this piece.
The four main cast (Matt Abotomey, James Harding, Angela Johnston and Tahleesha Leeson) were expert in their roles and helped keep the atmosphere and tone of the piece constantly engaging. The blending of filming techniques to heighten theatrical elements, such as close-ups, for moments of humour and low angles to create perspective is clever and something that I hope the company continues to explore in all of their work.
Re:group has done such fantastic and innovative work that I am excited for them to keep playing and bringing new ideas to the Sydney theatre landscape.