Inventive and irresistible, the docu-comedy Lights over Tesco Car Park by Poltergeist Theatre has a likeable cast that challenges and guides the audience (or earthlings) through their world of alien encounters and sweets.
The cast of Alice Boyd, Julia Pilkington, Rosa Garland and Will Spence begin the show by pumping up the crowd, getting you to sing songs by busted and S Club 7, already hinting at the high level of audience interaction throughout the show. Suddenly, the expressions of the cast turn serious; they stop singing, split apart and the lighting dims. The shift in tone is jarring, yet perfectly executed. It brings the audience neatly into a story that is structured like a role-playing video game, where the crowd gets to decide between different narratives.
Each performer holds out sweets conveniently shaped like a flying saucer, daring a member of the front row to come over and pick, not only a sweet, but also one of four stories of close encounters. The same audience member then hilariously becomes part of the story by, for example, becoming a husband in the 1960s. For a type of plot that usually requires a great deal of CGI, in this show instead someone from the crowd is blindfolded, and the actors use minimalist props to create unexpected feelings and sensations for them. Less really does mean more, with the physical effects of alien contact being shown by rubbing a balloon on their head, making his hair stand on end, and verbal cues being used to guide them through a narrative that has already been mapped out for him by the performers. It’s wonderfully inventive and made even funnier by the unexpected and clueless cast member. Watching a member of the crowd trying to work out where to be and what to say adds to the unpredictable nature of the narrative.
A quiz to decipher which of the audience might be an alien could be an awkward trial to sit through, but the charisma of the performers and the respect to which they show the audience make the whole scene fly by. Also, what was dubbed as a ‘thought experiment’ displays the excellent timing of the cast; the performer speaks into a microphone and have a fluid conversation with a pre-recorded voice.
One close encounter story entitled ‘Villas Boas Incident’ (taking its name from a true account) is unexpectedly emotional, with lines such as “left a piece of my heart up there” spoken as a volunteer from the crowd is on stage gazing up into space, thinking about their experience.
The audience is never filtered by nationality, merely called ‘earthlings’, emphasising the feeling of togetherness strongly encouraged by the story. At one point, a performer pours a whole jar of sweets over himself, to emphasise how we all can fall together. This is, in its own odd and silly way, very poignant. During one scene our smartphones play a powerful role, as their torchlights double as the light of a flying saucer, whilst a certain David Bowie track is playing. The passion of the applause at the end of the show was fully justified; it is stunning how much the line is blurred between performer and audience, between alien and human.
A commentary on the power of imagination, the desire to discover, the fear and hope toward the unknown, and the need for inclusivity, Lights Over Tesco Car Park is a witty burst of creativity that will leave many wanting to be abducted by aliens themselves. If only there was a flying saucer when you needed one.
Lights Over Tesco Car Park
Pleasance Dome – Jack Dome (Venue 23)
11-27 August (not 15 & 22)
Image: Giulia Delprato