The Aliens versus Pinter
Ralf Little and Mackenzie Crook not the real stars at Bush Theatre
There is every reason to believe that in person Mackenzie Crook and Ralf Little would be intelligent, amusing and likeable people to meet. It therefore is something of a disappointment to find that in 'The Aliens', currently at the Bush Theatre, they play characters who are talentless, self deluding idiots living out (mostly) a meaningless existence. The Aliens is the name of a band they formed together but mercifully, given the brief rendition of one of their songs that we were on the receiving end of, is no longer performing.
Jasper (Mackenzie Crook) and KJ (Ralf Little) are two slackers in their thirties who hang out in the backyard of a Vermont coffee shop. The gaunt looking Jasper is a tortured novelist with girlfriend issues. We know he lacks talent because an extended passage of his unfinished book is read out during the play and it stinks, allowing the audience to laugh condescendingly at him but he, and his friends, remain convinced of his genius.
Ralf Little hasn't moved away from comic roles much (apart of course from his appearances in 'Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please) but he proves he can do pathos and introspection here. He also proves he can't sustain an American accent. His character has dreadlocks and says of himself 'you could call me a buddhist.' There are lots of other things you could call him as well but interesting and worthwhile would not be among them.
With the two household names on stage there is little in the script to hold the interest but it does come to life with the entrance of the diffident busboy Evan. Played by Olly Alexander, he perfectly pitches the gauchness and teenage sense of constant embarrassment and his comic timing was always spot on. His puppy-like anxiety to ingratiate himself with the two older men is a welcome break from the whiney self-pity of the other two protagonists.
If you like Pinter and Beckett you'll probably get the point of this play. It has lots of pauses. If you pretend you like Pinter because you think you ought to, you can go along this play and pretend to enjoy it. For the rest of you there is the undeniable thrill of being in a tiny theatre with three highly talented actors doing the best they can with some poor material. The low admission price should allow you to focus on the positives, first of which would be Olly Alexander's performance, and enjoy your evening.
Afterwards I did try to see if I could accidentally bump into Ralf and Mackenzie in the bar to make sure that my last memory of them wasn't of a pair of talentless idiots. Unable to find them I retired with a friend to a booth and we talked, as we usually do, of bands we used to be in and our unfinished novels.
The Aliens is at the Bush Theatre until 16th October
October 2, 2010