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