Last Thursday I watched the latest Chameleons Theatre production – They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Guild’s coffee Morning – yes that is the title. A double parody of both amateur dramatics and sci-fi, the play is hilarious in how layered the comedy was, with multiple levels of humour. This performance also came ploughman’s dinner beforehand, which I thought was a nice touch and made the fourth wall breaks more immersive and “in tune” with the style of the play.
The nature of the play also meant a fake programme was created with lots of funny notes such as “Tickets cost £1 each- a strip of 5 is a bargain at £6” and the fact that Mrs Reece is the only member of the behind the scenes crew. The basic plot has the fictional Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society putting together a really, really, really dreadful version of They Came From Mars. Hilarity ensues.
There are many many references that whilst my dad and I got my mum was left clueless at. As the play was in part a mockery of science fiction a montage in the second act’s opening referenced Star Wars, Star Trek and of course Doctor Who. As a testament to how nerdy I am, I recognised the variation of the theme used (the 1980-1985 electric guitar theme used from Tom Baker’s final season, throughout the Peter Davison era and Colin Baker’s first season).
The idea of aliens landing in a southern English village is reminiscent of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, where the Martians destroy Woking because one of Wells’ critics lived there. The play within a play mocks sci-fi conventions such as the “take me to your leader” trope as well as bad science and sudden resolutions.
On top of this, the play is a double parody as whilst the sci-fi plot is the play being performed by the Farndale Woman’s Society the Society’s performance is going horribly horribly wrong.
Tensions start as soon as all the scenery – ALL the scenery – is brought on stage at once and none of the actors are prepared – Gordon, playing the vicar, is completely off with his line readings and the lead role of Jack is played by… well, nothing… as his actor is sick. It’s hilarious seeing everything that could go wrong in a play go wrong very deliberately to add comedic value.
As the evening goes on the characters get more and more fed up with the terrible play they’re performing and this is where a lot of the comedy comes from – the already cliché play is made even worse by the characters of the Farndale Woman’s Society completely collapsing and messing it up even more.
I adore plays within a play and I adore satire and this play is a double satire – the play the Farndale society are putting on is a terrible sci-fi story being performed terribly by the characters that is clearly a send up of amateur dramatics done badly.
The jokes come thick and fast as the limitations of amateur dramatics is mocked brilliantly with inconsistent lighting, mistimed lines and characters frequently breaking character to express their frustrations.
In conclusion, this extremely clever and funny play was a fantastic evening. I loved the references, the “bad” acting by the Farndale Society, the obvious send up of amateur dramatics and the hilarious visual gags such as the Martian gun being a bazooka. I had a very good time with this play.
They Came from Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning
by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Junior
Directed by Lorraine Biddlecombe
Photographs by Mike Morris
Performed by the Chameleon Theatre Company, Chandler’s Ford.