Do You Believe in Aliens? A Quick Chat with Melissa Cantwell Director of Alienation

Director Melissa Cantwell
Melissa Cantwell
Image – Richard Jefferson

The artistic director of the Perth Theatre Company, Melissa Cantwell, has been busy this month as she directs the world premier of Alienation.

Written by Lachlan Philpott, the production draws on interviews with Australians who claim to have been abducted by aliens in 2009 and taken to some kind of medical facility in the Blue Mountains.

Perth correspondent, Craig Dalglish sat down with Melissa to discuss the Perth Theatre Company’s latest production.

Alienation recounts experiences of alien abduction. Are you a believer?

I think I am. I can’t dispute people’s truths. This piece deals with truth and reality in such interesting ways that I think it will appeal to believers and skeptics.

What are some of the unusual abductions included in the play?

There are four main characters in the play whose lives are irrevocably affected by an alien encounter. Each experience is unique, but there are some recurring feelings, images and elements of the experience that each of the characters share. Lachlan (Philpott) has a beautiful eye for detail in his writing and the accounts are rich, human and surprising in their own way.

What can audiences expect from Alienation?

I hope they will have a unique night in the theatre, that they feel like the material we are working with has been explored in ways that they didn’t expect.

[pull_left]I can’t dispute people’s truths. This piece deals with truth and reality in such interesting ways that I think it will appeal to believers and skeptics[/pull_left]

What did you look for when casting the production?

I looked for actors who are playful and brave. Its very much an ensemble piece so it was about finding the right mix of energies and attitudes and Lachlan and I both felt that a mix of perspectives on the subject matter was important.

Can you tell us about the cast?

Luke Hewitt, Naomi Hanbury, Robert Jago and Natalie Holmwood provide an eclectic mix of voices and each is a unique and engaging performer. In combination it’s a brilliant team and we are discovering the world of Alienation together.

What attracted you to the script?

When we began the research and development process there wasn’t a script. What is amazing is that Lachlan has so keenly observed each of us in that process and, in combination with his experience and skill bringing that together with the accounts of abductees, he has created a new script that is at times poetic, at times domestic, and very very clever. It’s a lovely balance of human conflict, both internal and relationship based, with the very big ideas that the play embraces.

Do you read reviews?

Sometimes. I read them so I know how the actors might be feeling and as an Artistic Director it’s pretty essential that you know how your company’s work is being communicated to the wider world.

What excites you about theatre in Perth?

The people. There is a wealth of talent here and the challenges of the environment that Perth artists work in creates a culture that produces new ways of looking at theatre, new ways of making theatre, and it is really inspiring to be a part of that.

What is next after Alienation?

Next I am working with the remarkable Fleur Elise Noble on a visual installation series, stay tuned for more information.

Do you have any rituals on opening nights?

Just to breathe.

What has been the hardest thing about directing this production?

I’ll let you know when it’s open!


I love the material and it’s such ripe territory for the stage. Theatre is never easy, but there has been a lot of delight and joy so far.

What do you like to do to relax after a day of rehearsals?

Think about what I would be doing if I was relaxing…!


State Theatre Western Australia

Studio Underground

28 June – 13 July

Tickets through Ticketek

New South Wales

Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre

18 July – 27 July

Tickets through Q Theatre website

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