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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Aliens
Bush Theatre   Autumn 2010

It comes as a bit of a surprise to see that this amiable little American comedy was written by a woman, since it plays exactly like the middle chapters of a male writer's first novel.

So Annie Baker is to be commended for that technical achievement as well as for creating some curiously attractive characters in a story that is so frail as to be virtually nonexistent and that still lingers warmly in your memory.

A nerdy high school kid working for the summer in a small town coffee shop discovers a couple of thirty-something stoners who spend all day hanging out in the alley.

Both are school dropouts, one still lives with his mother, one imagines himself a novelist while the other writes incomprehensible song lyrics, but mainly they sit around, smoke, reminisce about the band they once almost formed (variously called The Aliens, Electric Hookah and Jamball And The Jolly Kangaroo, among others) and vaguely philosophise.

They're losers, of course, but harmless ones, and when they adopt the kid as a kind of mascot, they give him a warmth and sense of playing-with-the-big-kids that's just what he needs. They get him reading Bukowski, offer sex advice, don't tease him any more than is absolutely necessary, and generally offer a casual friendship.

And that's almost all there is.

In the course of the play someone will die, someone will get laid and someone will move on. There is no way one could call these guys major influences in the kid's life, but you can understand why they'd stay in his memory and become part of his first novel.

Perhaps it is the woman writer's perspective that allows that small, almost non-story story to be as satisfying as it is, the recognition that little things that don't change lives still matter just for their own sake.

Peter Gill directs with exactly the right light hand, refusing to allow anything to seem any bigger or smaller than it is, and Olly Alexander (kid), Mackenzie Crook (novelist) and Ralf Little (songwriter) all give very generous performances by submerging themselves in the characters and letting the play's quiet mode carry them along.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Aliens  - Bush Theatre 2010
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