REVIEW: Return To The Forbidden Planet, Upstairs At The Gatehouse ✭✭✭✭

Julian Eaves reviews Bob Carlton’s musical Return To The Forbidden Planey presented by Ovation Productions Upstairs At The Gatehouse.

Return To The Forbidden Planet Upstairs at the Gatehouse
The cast of Return To The Forbidden Planet. Photo: Darren Bell
Return To The Forbidden Planet
Upstairs At The Gatehouse
16th May 2018
4 Stars
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Ovation Productions, Katie and John Plews’ resident house company in their long-established London Fringe theatre in the heart of Highgate Village, continue their spring season with a splendid production of this seminal, genre-making musical about high-minded space explorers and mass-appeal rock and roll, featuring, as the programme declares: ‘daring heroes’, ‘strange places’ and ‘terrifying monsters’.  Originally brought into the world by Bob Carlton, and endlessly revived since, the action, we are told, takes place aboard the fictional spaceship ‘Albatross’ in the year 2042.  The plot is based on elements lifted out of the iconic MGM 1950’s sci-fi epic, ‘Forbidden Planet’, which itself is a re-working of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.  Carlton, a pioneering theatrical populist, in fact stuffs his script with extensive quotations from plenty of other works in the Shakespearean canon, often applying them in highly original and memorable ways, giving them one fresh new twist after another.  This rich classic texture is then interleaved with mainly brilliantly interpolated numbers from the golden age of rock and roll pop music, which provide welcome respite from the florid spoken text (much, indeed, as also do the 10 songs Shakespeare put into his original version of ‘The Tempest’, many or much of which were not written by him at all).
Return To The Forbidden Planey Review
The cast of Return To The Forbidden Planet. Photo: Darren Bell

So far, so credible.  Given a handsome staging by Amy Yardley, lit glamorously by Sam Waddington, and with a pungent sound design courtesy of Nico Menghini (assisted by Josh Robins), the modestly dimensioned stage of the theatre is set for epic events.  Kitted out in elegantly futuristic costumes supervised by May Clyne, and with wigs and hair by the ever-reliable team regular, Jessica Plews, (think much blue and mauve rinse bob cuts, and – where it’s needed – enough back-combing to die for), the cast totally look ‘the business’.  Playing a wide selection of rock band instruments, these actor-musicians turn the show into a fine gig-cum-spectacle, managing all the accoutrements and also giving their dues to Grant Murphy’s idiomatic choreography.

Ovation Productions presents Return To The Forbidden Planet Upstairs at the Gatehouse
The cast of Return To The Forbidden Planet. Photo: Darren Bell

They can certainly turn out the tunes: to name a few, Guy Freeman (Bosun) has a hot rock voice, and so does Lewys Taylor (Bud Visor), while Ellie Ann Lowe (Science Navigation Officer/Gloria) belts it out with stadium-filling chops, especially in her magnificent entry number as ‘Gloria’ and Stephanie Hockley (Miranda) makes a cool job of asking ‘Why must I be a teenager in love?’.  Meanwhile, the instrumental side wants for nothing in thrills, either, especially with Edward Hole’s (Cookie) stunning guitar solos to send the spine tingling.  This is the show to let the beat get to you and carry you away, and this team don’t leave anyone behind.  I love the brass riffs of Emma Fraser (Navigation Officer), the silver-coated roller-skating robot of Simon Oskarsson (Ariel).  Chris Killik makes a magnificently exotic Doctor Prospero and Alex Fobbester brings 1940s stiff-upper-lip class to Captain Tempest.  Rhiannon Hopkins keeps control as in the in-flight MD (and Penny Cyllan… what would young lovers do without her?), and David Persiva is the even more groan-worthy Mike Roechip (aka ‘Sticks’… guess what he plays).  And then there is a lovely video cameo from no less a personage than Angela Rippon, CBE, to fill in the expositional gaps in her most charming way with inter-galactic news bulletins.

Marcus Adams keeps them all beautifully in control as the Musical Supervisor, with Julian Littman’s arrangements sounding both crisp and full-bodied.  Overall, it’s a peach of a performance, even if the small detail and harmonisation of parts may require a little bit more time to perfect.  Maybe the actual script does meander around about the houses a bit – we seem to be straining to shoe-horn in Bard quotes and catalogue numbers rather than concerning ourselves overly with any dramatic consistency or meaning.  Well, that’s not the end of the world.  For addicts, this revival will prove irresistible, and for the as yet uninitiated it may well lure them into a life-long dependency for which there is, as far as we are aware, no known cure.

Until 17 June 2018


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