Just when we thought our festival-going was over for another year, the opportunity arose to check out How to Spot an Alien, a Paines Plough production of a fabulous, full on, play by Georgia Christou for ages 5+.

We were welcomed into the Roundabout at Summerhall – a bright yellow tent on the outside and a magical theatre space on the inside. There was an almost party atmosphere with lots of twinkly lights and dance music playing – quite an assault on the senses for a dreich Sunday morning – which set the mood for the adventure to come. The performers were chatting to the audience, introducing themselves and reassuring younger viewers that, although there are goodies and baddies in the show, it’s just a story and there’s nothing to be afraid of. As a mum, I really appreciated this. As did my daughter who, at four, is younger than the target audience for this play although was by no means the youngest there with several babes-in-arms experiencing an early dose of culture.

Then the lights dimmed and the performers were suddenly in character. The actor, Charlotte, was gone.  Her character, 12 year old Jelly, appeared; along with brother JonJo and their clever, ever patient, mum. Stark warnings are issued – this is no fairy tale. There are no happy endings*. Then the questions begin. No sooner had we come to admire Jelly and JonJo’s mum for dealing with one more question – about black holes, at bedtime – she is gone. A mystery. Made all the more mysterious by the appearance of an aunt who no one has heard of. Aunt Lina has some very strange mannerisms and the suspicious goings on in her home don’t escape the sharp sibling pair for long (although just how long is not actually clear to them). What is clear is that this is no safe place for a child. Planning an escape becomes ever more pressing when Aunt Lina shows her true colours. And her tentacles.

All three actors more than pull their weight in this performance. Jelly and JonJo are consistently good while mother/police officer/Aunt Lina/getaway-driver-alien/evil-professor-alien slips seamlessly between roles using accents, mannerisms and the odd accessory to portray the various characters.

The almost complete absence of props in no way diminishes the audience’s appreciation of what is going on. The clever combination of sound effects, lights, smoke and extremely well-timed movements conjures up everything from spiders to vehicles to an auditorium packed with aliens and at some points it really is a bit scary.

The show is described as a “a rip-roaring adventure through space full of friendship, fun and flying saucers” and I couldn’t agree more. It is exciting and action packed and loud and funny and wholly enjoyable.

*spoiler – it’s not all bad!

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