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“We cater to all, regardless of gender, race, species, or number of limbs.”

So ran the marquee for the Cabaret of Ares, backlit with electric light, glowing green above the medium sized backstreet off the West End. People had become used to Martians working in intricate labour – they were working in jewellery and clock making in the city these days – but never before in an arts environment.

After the invasion of 1897 failed it had been thought that all of these inhuman, unearthly creatures had been killed by Earth bound micro organisms they had no immunity from, but as it transpired, this was not the case. Younger specimens, it appeared, had an inbuilt immunity that gradually faded away as the creature got older. Taken into scientific care, and fed a diet of blood with iron supplements, the young Martians had unexpectedly thrived, and had even gathered an adaptation to the more strenuous gravity and heavier atmosphere of Earth.

So, twenty years down the line found these Martians, and their budded offspring, trying to make a way in a human society where the freak show novelty had long since worn off. They were able to communicate using a complex tentacled sign language, and their engineering skill had long since been noted. But as former world owners and world conquerors, they were bored, dissatisfied, and longing to stretch their experience away from Martian hive regimentation to some of the more human frolics they had witnessed over the years.

Hence the cabaret. Recruited by expert in Martian sign and theatrical agent Doctor Hornbeam, four Martians – three dancers and a pianist, were billed to perform at the Strandling Theatre, an off West End establishment with an experimentalist bent.

Advertised in the times, the evening was a sell out. Doctor Hornbeam stood satisfied at the door counting white bills of money, while the theatre owner, one Mr Arnold, beamed from ear to ear.

Insides the electric footlights went up as the main lights dimmed. On stage, were the four Martians. The former drinkers of human blood, destroyers of towns and villages with their deadly rays and toxic smoke, were ready to entertain their public.

One of them was ‘seated’ at a piano, its rounded green-brown body essentially just dropped on a purple cushion – now rather stained – at an angle enabling it to play the keyboard with its 16 mouth tentacles. In credibly dextrous, it played complex harmonies on a perfectly tempered clavier, the crystalline sharpness of the tuning causing wine glasses in the crowd to call in sympathy, the wine forming standing waves like rings in a pond after a stone has been thrown in.

The other three Martians sang, one clad in a bowler hat, the other a fascinator of sorts and the third a leather waistcoat engineered to fit the spherical body.

Alllloooo aloohooo” they cried in augmented 5ths and sharp 9ths. “Alllllooooo oooooooo” and the spotlights were filtered red, and another light was trained across the crowd in slow swoops, reminding some older patrons of the heatray of the days of the invasion.

Alllooo hoooooh ooo” and whatever they were singing about – a longing for home, a failed tentacle love affair, the beauty of the girl from Syrtis Major they’d never get to meet, they meant it. All the while they moved their sixteen limbs in the most extraordinary ways, creating a shadowplay of intricacy unrivalled on the backdrop behind them, hypnotising the crowd in all its finery.

Another piece was instrumental, and featured the dancer-singers linking their tentacles like Moebius strips and forming rings and spirals in shadowplay. Another piece was comedic in nature, and featured the three Martians exchanging their headgear with each other, and also with delighted members of the front row, who replaced shock with laughter, as the celestial cat burglars whipped their headgear off so fast you could barely see it done.

The final piece however, replaced bawdery and shadows with poignancy. A solitary Martian sang wordlessly in minor thirds as a picture of Mars taken with the Greenwich reflector was projected onto the backdrop behind it. The piano adopted terrestrial harmonics at last, and the whole effect was so moving that many of the audience found themselves complaining that smoke was getting in their eyes, as teardrops dripped down the canyons of their faces.

Stage right, pound signs were glittering in Doctor Hornbeam’s eyes. At last! A hit!

Copyright Mulberry Lightning 08.12.14