Writer: Bob Carlton
Director: Bob Carlton
Reviewer: Niall Harman
Updating Shakespeare’s The Tempest to a futuristic setting, with the action taking place entirely on a vast spaceship, and interspersing it with rock ‘n’ roll classics from the fifties and sixties sounds like a bizarre recipe for theatrical disaster. Yet this 25th anniversary production of Bob Charlton’s 1989 musicalReturn to the Forbidden Planet, touring the country until May, proves on the whole, that this crazy concept works – and is one that audiences adore.
To Charlton’s credit, he’s created a very clever show. In 1956,The Tempest was adapted into B-movie Forbidden Planet, and Charlton combines these two plotlines here, complete with mock-Shakespearean language and various references to the Baird (any Shakespeare nerds will appreciate allusions to Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Julius Caesar, among others). This is coupled with tracks such Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘Teenager in Love’ by Dion and the Belmonts and Roy Orbison’s ‘Only the Lonely’. The show was one of the first jukebox musicals, and is rather well crafted, even if transitions into some songs are noticeably awkward and forced.
Return to the Forbidden Planet sees a spaceship on a routine mission patrolling the galaxy crash landing on the planet D’Illyria in the midst of a meteor shower (cue the rendition of ‘Great Balls of Fire’). The mysterious and unseen planet is occupied by scientist and apothecary Prospero and his beloved daughter Miranda, who were cast adrift there some 15 years ago by Prospero’s wife Gloria (seemingly named so only to be able to include Them’s 1966 hit of the same name in the soundtrack). The pair are served and aided by Ariel, who has gone from being a spirit in The Tempest to a sassy silver robot on stage here. Chaos inevitably ensues, with secret identities revealed and a love triangle engulfing the spaceship. Most songs serve the plot well, but renditions of The Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’ and Gary Puckett’s ‘Young Girl’ – about Miranda’s love for the ship’s much older captain – are particularly cringe-worthy.
The talented cast of actor-musicians put their heart and souls into the piece and seem to be having the time of their lives. While Sean Needham as the ship’s captain struggles with the beginnings of his songs repeatedly, he is ably supported by a crack cast, notably Mark Newnham as the lovestruck young chef, Cookie, and Sarah Scowen as Miranda. However, Christine Holman’s inconsistent accent as the ship’s resident science officer is often distracting.
The show is a flawed one, with transitions into songs often feeling stilted, and then the songs themselves, while well-performed, adding very little to the story. The piece, clocking it at some two and three quarter hours, is at least twenty minutes overlong, causing it to drag in places and a lot of shuffling in seats from the audience. Yet it is immensely enjoyable and undeniably full of life. The packed theatre seemed to love it, and it’s clear to see why many often return to Return to the Forbidden Planet; it’s a fun evening of classic tunes with an often funny script and a committed cast.
While it may be far from a perfect show, and is one that lags at times, it is one with a lot of heart, and you’ll struggle to find an ensemble with this much passion and energy in any other theatre in the land.
Tour poster ¦Runs until 24 January then on tour