Writer: Bob Carlton
Music: Greg Last, Julian Littman
Director: Bob Carlton
Reviewer: Beth Steer
“Two beeps or not two beeps, that is the question”, apparently. At least, that’s what the Olivier Award winning production, Return to the Forbidden Planet – currently in the midst of its 25th anniversary tour – would have you believe.
Written by playwright Bob Carlton and based (loosely) on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the 1950s science fiction cult-hit film, Forbidden Planet, the show tells a space-based tale of adventure, primarily via the medium of song.
With its dialogue taken largely from a variety of Shakespeare plays and adapted for comedic purposes – “shall I compare thee to a Barbie doll?” – the performance, held together by 1950s and 60s rock hits, is undoubtedly nostalgic for fans of the original, but slightly perplexing for a first time viewer.
The show aims for big energy and the set, cast and noise levels reflect that. It is interactive from the start, as spacemen show audience members to their seats, waving from the stage while playing games and welcoming the audience with an air hostess style introduction.
And, in spite of the bizarre premise and over the top set up, the actor musicians are talented. Performing songs such as This Is A Man’s World and Good Vibrations, the voices are strong and the execution humorous and lively, if unavoidably gimmicky.
Characters that particularly stand out include Dr Prospero – played by Jonathan Markwood – who elicits a huge cheer from the audience on his appearance, and an even bigger cheer when singing (despite his character resembling a kind of wild-haired scientist, crossed with Elvis, in tweed trousers).
Mark Newnham’s performance as Cookie, too, is worthy of comment; his rôle as the ship’s hopeless and comedic cook – executing lines like “I burn! I pine!” brilliantly – combined with his genuine vocal talent, positions him as the star of the show.
An interesting touch is the video streaming of Queen’s Brian May – he introduces the play, narrates at points and reflects on the stage’s progress, in an adaptation of the rôle of the Shakespearean chorus.
Though perhaps going on for a little too long, with some of the actors slipping in their consistency – particularly when putting on accents – the show is relatively entertaining, and the performers are talented. The play is based around the songs and the music – rather than being a story in itself – and the enjoyment for the audience seems to come from a nostalgic point of view, rather than the plot.
That being said, if you’re interested in seeing what a camp robot doing the can-can looks like, it’s worth a watch.
Runs until 25th April 2015.