REVIEW: Concerning the UFO Sighting Outside Mt Roskill (Auckland Pride)

Review by Anjula Prakash

It’s the final week of the Auckland Pride Festival. With the festival turning out some amazing theatre this year, Concerning the UFO Sighting Outside Mt Roskill is one I’m glad I didn’t miss. Reon Bell gives a charming and thoroughly entertaining performance in this solo act as Dana, a young, closeted gay man in the 80s who has an increasing belief in aliens. The story starts out by steeping us in sci-fi mythoi as scenes from Doctor Who and Star Trek are projected on a large screen, putting mankind’s exploration of the universe, and ourselves, into the foreground, before taking us to a tiny desk at an insurance company in Mt Roskill. 

The comedy is grounded in an Office Space-esque journey of Dana’s workplace routine, which is disrupted with Dana’s constant preoccupation with science fiction in all its ephemeral qualities. But the two things together ultimately brings the show into its own unique world. Through the use of music, lighting and a projector screen, the world grows as we are taken to multiple locations in and around Mt Roskill. The different media are used particularly well in this way. The set is dressed simply for this reason, as the show leans into using sound, visuals, and recordings to tell the story. Director Sean Dioneda Rivera skillfully pulls all the elements together, keeping an energetic pace and with transitions. On the whole, the technical elements of the show are beautifully crafted.

As we move between the various parts of Dana’s world, there are signs peppered throughout that Dana has not come out as gay. It sits uneasily in the background, and at the same time, so does the burgeoning threat of alien abduction. Sometimes, the theatrics would overshadow the moments when the insidious alien presence made itself known, however, that journey finds clarity as it continues. 

In between dancing to Split Enz in your bedroom, watching Patrick Stewart be iconic as Jean-Luc Picard, the nostalgia hits hard. By setting a story in the past, the identity of the era is emphasised as it is recreated through emblematic music and television shows. These cultural artifacts are a large part of who Dana is, and where his identity as a Trekkie is established, his identity as a gay man, by contrast, is underexplored. Scenes in moody lighting of unrequited desires and feelings in nightclubs follow. These are times the mood becomes more emotional as we get a glimpse into Dana’s internal world.

Some of the references jump a little further ahead in time to the early nineties. The well loved theme music of Twin Peaks evokes a vibe of the paranormal and morbidity – funny how the theme of repressed identity often runs alongside the morbid. Once again as the sci-fi world collides with Dana’s inner self, the show arrives at a satisfying moment where recordings and live theatre culminate to a clever sequence. Eventually, Dana’s simple existence as an office worker is elevated into a world of science fiction and Dana has to face questions about his own existence. I think a true love of science fiction comes through at this point, as questions often posed by sci-fi stories are spoken through the words of Picard and Kirk, about existence and meaning in life (I think rather than the meaning-of-life). The alien encounter goes on a little too long at times as the pace is slow and on the same note. I think if expanded on, the experience could be more rewarding for the audience. However, it provides space for us to explore that world of ideas. 

I found the show to be a wonderful orchestration of theatrical elements. The sound and music were particular highlights, as was the 80s nostalgia and foray into self-acceptance explored through science fiction. The show is fun, at times feeling like I was on a musical road trip through Mt Roskill. The performance is charming, engaging, and at moments, honest and touching. I would recommend getting in more theatre before the Pride season is over.

Concerning the UFO Sighting Outside Mt Roskill plays Basement Theatre 21-25th February 2023 as part of Auckland Pride.

This review is part of the Auckland Pride Review Project – a collaborative project between four local publications (The Pantograph PunchBad Apple GayRat World and Theatre Scenes) to provide more critical discourse around queer theatre and performance work. We will be reviewing a range of shows throughout the month of Pride – so keep a look out and go support our local queer performers!

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