There’s quirky…, then there’s eccentric, …and then there’s Lights Over Tesco Car Park. This is, without doubt, the oddest show I’ve seen in the last three weeks. It’s all about UFOs, the aliens amongst us (or not , as the case may be) and the power of belief. The piece is full of play, irreverence and a total disregard for the general “rules” of theatre. By the end the whole auditorium is on stage and the entire audience have become part of the show.
Poltergeist Theatre are a young troupe who specialise in puzzle box productions – what writer/director Jack Bradfield describes as collage theatre – and although there is a main thread this probably matters less than it might normally. A friend of the group, Robert, has seen aliens; indeed, he has invited one to stay with him via Air B & B! Robert himself never “appears” – he is a voice on the phone or represented by a suspended baseball cap. His friends (Alice Boyd, Julia Pilkington, Rosa Garland and Will Spence ) however do appear and debate whether they do or should believe Robert; the opinion of the audience is regularly sought.
And here’s the interesting bit. This is not so much a show laced with audience interaction as audience collaboration. Rather than become a stooge to the performers, the answers which the selected audience member gives when questioned, guide the form of the narrative which therefore alters each time the piece is performed – the shifting nature of perceived truth and all that. Thus, someone finds themselves blindfolded and experiencing a literally hair raising moment as a mini fan and static from a balloon are used to replicate the feeling of an alien sighting. At the climax the audience’s usually frowned upon mobile phones are actively deployed to create tiny pinpricks of light suggesting UFOs in the sky.
There are four interwoven distinct sections with heavy audience participation, where case studies of alien encounters/abductions are examined. Possibly (probably?) the order in which these are played out alters with each performance. While they give the show the feeling of verbatim theatre or a docu-drama there is none of the seriousness associated with these genres. Instead the audience participate in an interactive quiz and get to sing along to the theme from “Star Wars” – I promise you it made (some kind of) sense at the time! Oh, and there’s also a lot about those small colourful sweets with sherbet inside – flying saucers.
The energy of the four performers seems boundless and their quick thinking when interacting makes for some funny interludes. There are also some quite melancholic poignant moments and a couple of David Bowie songs are put to effective use. As is usually the case with this type of devised theatre, a bare stage is used though there are some projected slides explaining concepts like “the peak end rule” – this is when people tend to use a psychological shortcut and judge a whole experience based on how they feel at the climax/end of that experience. This cleverly foregrounds the show’s actual finale when every single person present becomes integral to that ending.
And therein lies the big disappointment. Because, of course, as distanced viewers through a camera lens we cannot be drawn in and participate. The peak end rule for me was a feeling of frustration and regret whereas I suspect the live audience was experiencing a sense of euphoria and contentment. In that respect it is not the best of shows for online viewing. Not that there is any way of getting round this but it is a powerful and timely reminder of the communal nature of theatre and why audiences are quite as an important a part of the mix as the performers, the writer(s) and the technical back up. To truly experience the full force of a piece like this, well, as the saying goes – you really had to be there.