The last Y-frontier

aliens love underpants

Aliens love underpants

Wolverhampton Grand

****

IT takes a lot of imagination to turn Claire Freedman’s best-selling children’s book into a one hour stage show.

After all, you have only 12 four line verses of wacky rhyme for words and less than 30 pages of Ben Cort’s illustrations to work with, but writer/director Adam Bampton-Smith has done a splendid job with what would appear at first sight to be slim, or at least short, pickings.

As the book discovered though, you can’t really go wrong with a mix of children, underpants and aliens and so it proved with an enthusiastic cast of four, and an animated assistant stage manager and scene shifter, keeping everything moving along at a cracking pace.

From a start teasing the audience that the show was cancelled and they were merely conducting a survey about underpants, the quartet launched us into space via school and Timmy’s bedroom.

Timmy, played by Alex James Ellison, is the schoolboy abducted or at least borrowed by aliens on the hunt for underpants, who then decodes the magic symbols which have baffled the finest brains on Planet Janet for generations.

His mum, who has to replace underpants regularly stolen by marauding aliens, is played by Eve Pearson-Wright who shows a fine stage presence. She also plays a schoolgirl along with Abigail Carter-Simpson who then excels as a shopgirl at Pants R Us – which is doing a roaring trade in replacement pants. Her shopgirl is more of the Dolly Parton variety, y’all, with a lively country song and dance about . . . er, underpants..

Mark Collier plays the teacher, Mr Steven, who wants to be a spaceman we discover when he sings about it.

And everyone apart from Ellison doubles up as puppeteers, carrying their alien puppets around Avenue Q style and, to be honest, the aliens are more cute than creepy.

Isla Shaw’s design is simple but effective including a spaceship which, with the starry cosmos behind the actors, and the imagination of the audience in front, left us ready to  boldly go where no man has gone before – and there was an impressive collection of revered iconic underpant icons for anyone who had forgotten what the show was about.

As a show it is great fun and has something for everyone. The story is perhaps more for the younger end of the target audience while some of the script is aimed at the older end; it is a delicate balancing act which is carried off well with neither toddlers nor hardened primary school pupils losing interest – helped by much encouragement for audience participation from the cast.

All right it is not Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams, Beckett or Bennett, but in its own way it is just as important. Shows like this are hardly highbrow, there is no great art or drama involved but with so much else clamouring for the time and attention of today’s youngsters from computer games, downloads and movies to the vacuous wilderness of much of social media, theatre is battling not only for their attention now but for the future. Lose them now and you lose the next generation of theatregoers and Aliens Love Underpants is fun, lively, charming and downright silly enough to keep kids on side . . . until the next time.

One small boy left singing one of the several underpant songs, admittedly with most words missing, while my seasoned theatregoing grandson left happily enough, which is good enough for me. To 24-07-15

Roger Clarke

23-07-15

Aliens Love Underpants returns to the Midlands at Birmingham Town Hall Sunday 25 October - Monday 26 October

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