views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Make Advena Great!
Camden People's Theatre
23rd August 2017


Publicity photo for Make Advena Great

Photography provided by The Stranger State

I so wanted to like Make Advena Great Again!, I really did. The title alone gives away its anti-Trump leanings and like most reasonable people, quite frankly, I think the man is an misogynistic idiot with too much power. However, despite the effort and enthusiasm that has been sunk into this show by the York University students making up fledgling company The Stranger State, the resultant play is unwatchable.

The action takes place in Advena, which is apparently the 51st state of America. Advena's Institution of the Development of Extraterrestrial Stuff, otherwise know as AIDES, has been offered financial support from a certain president if they can help him meet an alien. (One of the most worrying thing about this script is that even in a parallel universe, there is still a Trump in power.) After 10 years of keeping its doors firmly shut, AIDES advertises for new staff and local girl Mary-Anne Murphy (Annabel Lee) jumps at the chance to join. Having just graduated from high school, a job at "Windy's" isn't enough to satisfy her (oh yes, do you see what they did there?) and she wants nothing more than to become an AIDES scientist. Nothing is ever that simple, with a highly strung professor (Richard Stranks), an odd, interfering sheriff (Ted Weston) with political designs and a lab assistant, Sandra (Lottie Bauer), who would rather be anywhere else than in Advena.

So far, so deliberately ridiculous. Although it's a nonsensical plot, this seems to be the intention of co-writers and co-directors Bauer and Beth Sitek. Lee's character is full of relentlessly irritating happiness and she delivers an impossibly high-energy performance, even bouncing up and down doing high-kicks at one point, without appearing in the least bit tired. That's a talent in itself. As for Stranks, he makes a passable Trump impersonation from behind the colourful screen (pay no attention to the man behind the UV curtain, Dorothy). The joke wears thin quickly though - as much as I enjoy mocking Trump as much as the next person, there is only so long you can string out a funny voice unless you're Greg Shapiro in Zondag met Lubach's viral video The Netherlands Second.

The main issue with Make Advena Great Again! is that it doesn't seem to have a purpose, other than to give its cast all a chance to play with UV glow paint. Yes, Advena is a parallel reality allegedly full of UFO sightings and the like, but the UV paint doesn't actually add to that and can't have been cheap in the quantities used. The storyline is rambling, unfocussed and unfunny, leading to a pair of audience members being bored enough to walk out part way through. Given that involves crossing the stage at the Camden People's Theatre, that requires a hell of a lot of frustration. I will admit to watching them longingly, however persevered in the hopes that there would be a pay off of some kind that justified it all. Instead, a bag of soil was thrown at me.

It's a shame that Bauer and Sitek have devoted a year to this show, with Make Advena Great! the second incarnation of their collaboration (it was previously called AIDES). When you wake up and can half-remember a dream and the feelings that it evoked, but not the fine detail, the more you try to remember what exactly happened, it melts away. It feels like Bauer and Sitek have had a similar dream and in trying to tease out the subtleties and shape it into a biting piece of satire have instead unconsciously painted a brightly-coloured nightmare together.

Make Advena Great! ran from 23rd to 27th August 2017 at Camden People's Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)

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