26 Apr

When I was a child, my father would occasionally threaten to buy me a model train set. Fortunately for me, he retired early and had ample time to build his own. He laboured for seemingly endless hours in what came to be called “the train room”, one of the many rooms vacated in the family home by deserting children. Having spent forty years behind a desk as a railway clerk, my father needed to learn the skills required to create a miniature world (as against those required merely to survive one.)

Visits home invariably included visits to “the train room”, and seeing the set complete, not once did I wish my father had made good the threat that had hung over my early years. However, though a self-obsessed, opinionated twenty-something, I could still admire his skill and his effort, and found it easy to praise his achievement.

UFO, written by Kirby Medway and directed by Solomon Thomas, struck me as a bit of a train set. The 65 minute performance consists of four actors manipulating small models of themselves situated in a golf course (?), the site of a supposed UFO landing. The actors both voice the figurines and photograph them in the miniature landscape. These images are projected onto two large screens. The result is something like watching the creation of a stop motion animation.

Meticulously constructed, the images are beautiful and haunting.

The story is Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival meets Kafka’s The Castle meets Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s The Thunderbirds. It’s Arrival in that the characters are closely monitoring a landed UFO that may or may not be attempting to communicate with them. It’s The Castle because the characters are little people struggling to make sense of the human world, impotent and bewildered victims of a mysterious bureaucracy. It’s The Thunderbirds because … I used to really like The Thunderbirds.

There’s plenty of humour, which the cast (Matt Abotomey, James Harding, Angela Johnston and Tahlee Leeson) deliver wonderfully.

Because there’s such a focus on the technical side, it’s tempting to see this production as an experiment in form that has little interest in presenting meaning.

But, I guess, a bunch of tiny manipulated figures, who display only pettiness in the face of what is possibly the greatest challenge in human history, would seem for many a fitting metaphor for current affairs.     

Paul Gilchrist

UFO by Kirby Medway and Solomon Thomas

Produced by re:group performance collective

at Griffin until 29 April


Image by Lucy Parakhina

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