Brighton Fringe 2018
Andrew Allen writes and directs this Cast Iron Theatre production, avibrantly-enacted nine-parts centring on Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. At one point an audience recruit’s brought in to be John Hurt with an alien stuck on his face making a fine stab at the Elephant Man speech. Elsewhere Andrews hands out party poppers for the audience to amplify a climactic plot-point. Lighting’s deftly handled by the Sweet tech team. Till May 27th.
Actor Heather-Rose Andrews with a table range of props including little articulated spacemen, flour, eggs, milk, ultra-sonic beepers, headgear, more headgear, and a clutch of thumbnail impersonations jumps from storyteller to Weaver’s Ripley to another character to being Andrews.
It’s good to see a writer suddenly leap ahead. Andrew Allen’s just cancelled a revised version of one show he produced in 2016: 1816 The Year Without Summer involving the Shelleys, Claire Clairmont, Byron and Dr Polidori. That was a show needing development and two years on Allen’s decided it’s not quite ready; certainly not in the same week he produces his latest piece One Woman Alien which he also directs. Add to that that Heather-Rose Andrews has only recently finished her superb run in Sam Chittenden’s Metamorphosis and you’d think we’re in danger of overload.
Some thrive on it. This explosively funny parody and Ted Talk in one about Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien is wonderful in another way: it almost convinces you it was written in part by Andrews too, so pointedly feminist is it and how relished by the actor.
This latest Cast Iron Theatre production is a far cry from Allen’s earlier script. Reduced to one (his revised Year in fact cuts down too) we’re rendered a wickedly funny, vibrantly-enacted nine-parts centring on Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. These comprise her six luckless shipmates, a cat, an alien and… well is it all too much? At one point an audience recruit’s brought in to be John Hurt with an alien stuck on his face making a fine stab at the Elephant Man speech. Elsewhere Andrews hands out party poppers for the audience to amplify a climactic plot-point. Lighting’s deftly handled by the Sweet tech team.
Andrews with a table range of props including little articulated spacemen, ultra-sonic beepers, headgear, more headgear, some surprises, and a clutch of thumbnail impersonations (‘ugh ugh’, ‘let’s get out of here’ and so on) jumps from storyteller to Weaver’s Ripley to another character to being Andrews, who confides though adding this is in the script, she identifies with Weaver/Ripley. She too is long with big hair and thus thought confident.
Allen seems to have tailored this around Andrews – and the type of actor who might subsequently take up the role. These asides and narrational devices dart out from around the storytelling, freeze-framing it with essentially two characters: Andrews herself, or her persona; and that other Andrews-as-narrator commenting on the production of Alien.
I’m glad I’ve only ever seen the last fifteen minutes of Alien. I’ll never need to watch it now. From the gender-blind moment of casting Weaver almost by accident, where Ridley Scott wasn’t making so much a feminist statement as one of an almost gender-neutrality, we’re emeshed in the politics. Why Alien has accidentally become a feminist icon, nearly forty years have done little to shift things. The brief conversation between weaver and the only other feminine actor is memorable for not being about men, except that men are talking all around them. The Weaver/Ripley ‘We’ve in the wrong galaxy’ to her navigator colleague elicits a brief affirmative, but cinematic history has been made. Men aren’t the topic!
Another cinematic feat of note is how the camera avoids Weaver altogether for much of the early part of the film, as if she’s of no account. How deliberate this is, is apparently difficult to tell (I’d have previously thought it was a masterly way of bringing an un-regarded Warrant Officer slowly to the fore). Naturally towards the end where the camera starts falling in love with her and somewhat gratuitously Weaver undresses, elicits fun from Andrews; who strips to reveal – well there’s a great line she delivers you’ll have to see for yourselves.
In between Andrews boggles beyond belief. Not only does she impersonate her characters, with wigs, caps, parti-coloured space-blasters, bandannas, beards – oh I forgot that one – a range of shrunken-ratio props, lowering toy spacemen into gullies (off the front of the desk) dusting them with flour, and their levering out – you’ll find out, always a bad move in horror or alien flicks. One item comically glows purple, violet and blue as Andrews gingerly removes it. You’ll have to wait till after Andrews ducks under the table, thrice, then throws away any pretence at hiding props, a deconstructive tour-de-farce.
There’s more, or Andrews might add, less. This is an outstanding show in the making; on this form by the end of the week. The fact that Andrews in a hot room on her first night cavorting round with huge energy briefly dried whilst catching her breath has been mentioned publicly but she handled this with such humour and grace that you won’t be seeing it again. I can predict that by the end of its run on the 27th, this should be the most outstanding one-person show you’ll see in the last week.