Review - The Aliens
Bringing us their first production, The Aliens, Cops And Robbers Theatre provides an absorbing portrayal of directionlessness and friendship. Taking the stage at the Burton Taylor Studio for an hour and a half this three actor show fits perfectly in both style and content.
The Aliens is a story of two friends, Jasper played by Jake Dann and KJ played by Leo Kitay, sat outside the back door of a café, lost in life, outcasts. They are soon confronted by a skilfully awkward Evan played by Caitlin O'Sullivan. Jasper and KJ represent two sides of the same coin. With no direction KJ turns to a chaotic energy while Jasper is more planted and introspective. Evan is the foil to this, they have a plan for what they are going to do. But a connection between the three of them is formed over one 4th of July party as we go into the interval. The interval while well placed if it needed to be there felt as if it interrupted the flow of the piece. With the short run time already I wonder if the reveal at the end of the show may have been felt more if the joyful momentum from the end of act one was carried forward better.
One highlight of the production was Leo's original music for the show. KJ clearly seeking comfort in the connection he has with Jasper and the band (of many names) that they are in. He is regularly humming a tune or in the second act finding that final moment of connection with Jasper through playing guitar with Evan. The 4th of July party culminates with a rendition of one of the bands first songs. Performed by KJ and Jasper for Evan, this moment is the true heart of the show and the original song is a large part of that as well as the nuance hinting at a deeper backstory we never see woven within the acting.
The visual style of the production mirrored that of the production as a whole. Well thought out and hitting the mark between cluttered and bare. Freya Hutchins's sett consisted of a door frame, an upturned crate and a couple of bins and chairs all surrounded by cardboard, cups and other mess. The mess itself was localised and added context to the back alley the show was set in without being distracting or in the way. A hand painted sign above the door reads 'please use front entrance' giving us location even as the audience walks in. Costume fit into the production smoothly, giving each character a unique style that even developed as the characters did throughout the show.
While simple, Luke Thornhill's use of light was impactful. Each act started with a single light framing the set and casting shadow, using chiaroscuro to freeze that moment, painting like, before the it opens up into the scene. The scenes then are general washes with attention payed to the detail of intensity and the mix of the lights available. This careful mix of cold light into the forestage, while it did not change the light on the actors at all, allowed Thornhill guide the audience through shifts in time and tone. Equally the use of sound effects was minimal, only being used where needed and allowing the quieter moments within the show to breath.
Overall this production of 'The Aliens' is a carefully guided tour of how it feels to have no direction tied to a celebration of the connections that we form along the way. With student theatre now returning to a sense of what we had before this addition to this terms shows at the BT Studio is a welcome one. Small scale theatre is the best way for people to get started within oxford drama and I hope to see much more of the entire Cops and Robbers team in future productions.
Written by - H. Dovell