“We’re not even close to being one of them”
Annie Baker’s play The Aliens marks the first time that Peter Gill has directed at the Bush Theatre in West London. Set at the yard of back of a diner in Vermont, former trailer park kid Jasper is trying to write a novel and college dropout KJ is laconically trying to find the perfect recipe for magic mushroom tea. A high school student who starts work at the coffee shop discovers the two nearly-30-somehings and a slow gentle friendship develops based on little chats, eating snacks and watching the 4th July fireworks.
Lucy Osbourne’s stage design is excellent, with the audience right there in the yard with the characters, it is well balanced being extremely intimate without feeling too intrusive and continues a strong vein of interesting design work at the Bush. But sadly that was about as good as it got for me.
It was well-acted to be sure: Mackenzie Crook nicely portrays the deluded self-confidence of Jasper, Ralf Little is convincing (and surprisingly tuneful) as the chilled stoner dropout KJ and would-be songwriter and Olly Alexander makes an intriguing debut as the awkward naïf who is sucked into their seductive world.
But as so little actually happens, I just found it dull to be honest. I longed for something more than just observing this world as I didn’t care much for Jasper or KJ and their attempted defence of their lifestyle and so struggled to engage with much of the piece. The interjections of an outsider helps a little as it is much easier to empathise with the geeky teenager but it just wasn’t enough for me.
It is fine to be minimalist, but it does rely rather on having engaging characters and I am not so sure that Baker has succeeded here in that respect. It actually reminded me most of Jerusalem, or at least in my reaction to it, in the way that it depicts a kind of fringe lifestyle that just doesn’t interest me or engage me on the night.
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until 16th October