REVIEW: Concerning the UFO Sighting Outside Mt Roskill, Auckland (Te Pou)

Review by Hannah Jamieson

[My Love is Alien]

Reon Bell’s (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa) Concerning the UFO Sighting Outside Mt Roskill, Auckland returns to the stage after appearing in the Auckland Pride Festival, and the Kia Mau Festival to kick off the 2023 Rangatahi season at Te Pou Theatre. 

Immersed in sci-fi and kiwiana, it’s Auckland, but not as we know it. A blend of a coming-of-age narrative and a Kafkaesque dreamscape, this solo show unfolds the journey of Dana, a young man navigating the challenges of his office job, his identity as a gay man, and the growing presence of UFOs in his Mt Roskill neighbourhood during the 1980s. 

The narrative arc is light and whimsical, feeling more a collage of sci-fi and 80’s pop culture references than following your standard plot structure. As Dana grapples with his own identity and sexuality, it becomes increasingly evident what might be manifesting these nightly visits from extraterrestrials. The paranoia of being watched and monitored escalates within Dana until he must bring what is hidden to the surface and confront his fears — the show is fueled by emotional angst, with a soundtrack to go with it. 

What truly captivates is Bell’s flare for gesture and movement; as if conjuring physical objects out of thin air, he manoeuvres around a tight and cramped office. Following this, we vicariously experience the freedom and emotional release of dancing in the privacy of your bedroom as Bell grooves to Split Enz. Possibly the most impressive aspect was Bell’s ability to replicate genuine intimacy and awkwardness with an invisible lover in an illicit late night rendezvous. Throughout the performance Bell’s presence exists beyond their own body. His ability to shape a scene through expression adds a distinct and captivating layer to their storytelling. 

Setting the play against a sci-fi backdrop allows Dana to delve into his own sense of alienation and isolation, while also drawing from a rich resource of exploration into humanity. Scenes from Doctor Who and Star Trek play on the projector behind Dana, including the iconic ‘What a piece of work is Man’ scene between Picard and Q, melding Hamlet’s melancholy with Star Trek’s idealist vision of humanity — a visual embodiment of the twisting conflict within Dana himself. 

Bell closes out the show by reciting Spock’s ‘two halves’ speech, a haunting monologue about reconciling two battling identities within one’s self. It’s also a subtle reminder of the queer-coded nature of sci-fi, showcasing struggles that have been altered, renamed, and straight-washed, yet the underlying pain persists unchanged. 

Though the atmosphere is small and intimate, the production is impressive. Transitions between night and day, the office, and Dana’s bedroom are instant. The projector, is not an afterthought, but utilised as a TV, night club, and dreamspace, and is a fully integrated aspect of the show. However, the segments that venture into the surreal and absurd feel somewhat self-indulgent. With the show’s concise 45-minute duration, there’s an opportunity for better curation, allowing more space for narrative exploration and enhancing the overall flow of the performance.

Concerning the UFO Sighting Outside Mt Roskill, Auckland is a clever composition of many theatrical elements. Its exceptional use of sci-fi serves as a lens to explore incredibly realistic themes. I highly recommend catching a showing next time Bell brings it to stage. If this is how the Rangatahi season at Te Pou kicks off, we’re left eagerly anticipating the creative brilliance that awaits. 

Concerning the UFO Sighting Outside Mt Roskill, Auckland, played 7-11 November 2023 at Te Pou Theatre as part of the Rangatahi season running 7th of November to the 2nd of December 2023.

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