Having come to expect something a bit different when I walk into the Studio Underground, I was in no way disappointed this time. The Perth Theatre Company’s production Alienation seemed at first to be just as mystifying as the aliens and abduction stories it covers. In the end, the performance was engaging and illuminating.
Are we alone in the universe? This has been and will be asked time and time again. Some people are sceptics and some believers. But what about “abductees”? They might not feel alone in the universe, but alone on Earth. This is what the performance explores through four characters, two stories, and much breaking of the fourth wall.
Each of the four actors plays a version of themselves and a character. As an ensemble they give disjointed narrations of three abduction stories, interspersed with a dramatic recounting of the journey in developing the performance itself. The frequent movement between stories and characters was not difficult to follow, but a bit disorienting and eventually made the performance feel long.
A true highlight and driver of the performance was Natalie Holmwood in her role as the awkward and incredibly funny Catherine. Her endless variety of dorky expressions and boundless energy made her a captivating delight. Robert Jago was entertaining as his sceptical self, while as character Will he didn’t have much more to do than stare with huge eyes at Catherine.
Luke Hewitt and Naomi Hanbury portrayed Brian and Tiffany respectively. For the first half of the performance they had very little to do as Natalie Holmwood dominated what felt like a large portion of the dialogue. I found that Hewitt and Hanbury were much like Jago; they were most enjoyable to watch as the versions of themselves.
The design (Bruce McKinven) was equal parts minimalistic and mesmerising. Everything looked fantastic, from the silver floor and translucent screen, to the black and white balloons. The space was used to its full potential, the movement coordinated by Sue Peacock. Over all the constant movement was effective, however during long monologues it proved to be distracting.
The lighting (Benjamin Cisterne) and sound (Peter Dawson) worked in harmony. Both changed regularly to suit the mood and set the atmosphere. The lighting went from green, to blue, to dark and yellow, often accompanied by an appropriately unsettling static sound. These sounds contributed to the overall aesthetic of the performance, which I felt was one of its most successful features.
While Alienation was at times chaotic, for the most part Melissa Cantwell’s direction achieved what it set out to do. The frequent demolition of the fourth wall, in a way that seemed to build up the play as it was happening, was fresh and original and there were enough laughs to keep the audience entertained. Sometimes grim, sometimes light and fun, this production is well worth a look.