The “Aliens Love Underpants” series really have everything in them that a 5-year-old boy could need – aliens, underpants….throw in some dinosaurs and pirates later on in the series and you’re sorted. So, when I heard the aliens and their undergarments were coming to the West End, I thought Reuben might just want to check it out. The timing was perfect – Eva was in nursery and he’d just endured yet another long and boring stretch of “Mummy’s office” time (the joys of being freelance during the summer holidays), so we nipped round the corner in Soho (as Jarvis would say) and joined a gaggle of other small children and their parents to witness some pantsy fun.
Now, if you’ve read the book you’ll understand that a little stretching is needed to make it into a 55-minute theatre production, and the play is quite different. Roo said afterwards that it was “this much” like the books. It helps if you have Reuben’s hand in front of you when you read that, to understand how much “this much” is..but it’s a fairly small amount. However, and this is the important bit, it doesn’t matter. He loved the play, even if it was different to the books. It stands up perfectly well on its own.
The play started with the four cast members cheerily hyping the kids up. Teasing them that there wasn’t going to be a show before having a Cliff Richard-esque “Let’s do the show right here!” moment and deciding to just throw it together. They ran off to change out of their “I <3 Underpants” t-shirts and an hour of rollicking fun began.
The plot goes a little something like this – schoolboy Timmy wants to become a spaceman, a dream he shares with his teacher Mr Stevens (pictured above) but his classmates mock his ambition. Then some underpants go missing and it transpires that it’s the work of some underpant-loving aliens who abduct Timmy and take him to their planet to see their collection of famous pants. It’s not a complex plot, but it can take a little while to see where it’s going – during the classroom scene, Roo called out “We want to see aliens in underpants!’ The subtlety of theatre is lost on him. But it only took a few minutes for the aliens to appear, in their UV-painted UFO, and from then on he was happy.
Woven into the plot were songs, a hoedown, footage of Apollo 11 and even Kylie’s hotpants. It was pacey and fun, with a lot of audience participation – a must when you have a room full of small children. I’d say it was pitched about right for Reuben’s age – I’m not sure whether Eva would have sat still all the way through, although she managed 45 minutes of Andy at LolliBop so may well have been OK. There were some younger toddlers there who seemed restless, so I’d say it’s probably more one for 3 and upwards – and definitely one for grown-ups, as long as they aren’t coy about pants. It was a mix of live action and puppetry, with the aliens being voiced by the actors, and the set changed constantly to represent anything from Timmy’s bedroom to the spaceship to “Pants R Us”. There were some clever touches with the lighting, like when the backdrop was stripped away to reveal a wall of star-like lights (see top picture). That was a lovely moment and provoked gasps from all sides.
So, it was funny, lively and made great use of the space. It was, as Reuben said, very different to the book but it retained the charm and the flavour of the books (and there was even a sneaky synposis of “Dinosaurs Love Underpants” in there.) It’s a musical, bloomer-full treat for any pant-lover. And make sure you join in with the singalong at the end…
Disclaimer: I received press tickets to see and review the show. All opinions remain honest and my own.