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5 Star review of Return To The Forbidden Planet

Return to the Forbidden Planet
Jonathan Markwood as Prospero in Return to the Forbidden Planet. Photo Credit Nobby Clark

Despite having heard of Return To The Forbidden Planet, having been told about it by people who had been to see previous productions, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I walked into the New Wimbledon Theatre to see it on its 25th anniversary tour, and I now understand why. How on earth to describe this glittering, frenzied, unutterably silly, supremely fabulous show to somebody who hasn’t seen it? “Well, it’s loosely based on The Tempest, but there are lines in there from loads of other Shakespeare plays, and…and…oh, yes, there’s a spaceship, and it crashes on an alien planet, and Prospero’s there, and he’s on drugs, ummm… oh yes, and they all play instruments and there’s about a million songs in it, and there’s a space monster, and… and…”

Yes, I can hear how that sounds, but really that’s the best I can do. As far as the plot is concerned, you’ll just have to go and see it. In so far as this particular production is concerned, the one thing that really hits you is the sheer energy of it. After a slightly limping start the buzz hits you, and all is suddenly an explosion of noise, light, sound and music. Oh my goodness, the music. Hit after hit, all slotting seamlessly into the action and all performed by the cast on multiple instruments with marvellous verve and skill.

Steve Simmonds as Bosun, Mark Newnham as Cookie and Georgina Field as Anne Droid in Return to the Forbidden Planet. Photo Credit Nobby Clark
Steve Simmonds as Bosun, Mark Newnham as Cookie and Georgina Field as Anne Droid in Return to the Forbidden Planet. Photo Credit Nobby Clark

Ariel’s rousing, high-kicking rendition of “Who’s Sorry Now?” and Dr Prospero’s demented “All Shook Up” are particular highlights. The set, whilst seemingly dated and chaotic, is actually a shining example of slick, efficient design; everything has a purpose and everything, despite appearances, is in exactly the right place to slot fluidly into Fredrick “Frido” Ruth’s captivating and flawless choreography. Rickety cupboards and walls serve to hide any cast members not currently needed, unwieldy-looking microphone stands beautifully illustrate the gravity fluctuations and, despite the clutter and the pace, nobody knocks anything over or gets tangled up in anything they aren’t meant to. Big screens are used to great effect, showing retro graphics of meteor showers and giant bug eyed aliens as appropriate.

Around all of this the cast run, gyrate and leap, adjusting mic height as they go (whilst hanging upside-down, at one point), all the while acting, singing and playing their hearts out. It’s exhausting just watching them. They are most definitely a talented lot. Star turns include Joseph Mann as a fire breathing, acrobatic, robotic Ariel, Jonathan Markwood as a maniacal Dr Prospero and Steve Simmonds as a wonderfully stolid Bosun Arras; however they are all so entertaining that there really is very little to choose between them. Mark Newnham does deserve special mention, not only for a beautifully tragi-comic, lovelorn performance but also for his breath-taking guitar rendition of She’s Not There, by the Zombies (via several other classic hits en route).

As an extra treat the audience gets to play a game of ‘spot the Shakespeare quotation’; not always an easy task as many have been mangled for comic effect. “Two beeps or not two beeps, that is the question.” Oh my giddy aunt. The name of the game in director Bob Carlton’s production is most definitely FUN. The cast are having it and, judging from the roars of applause, the audience certainly are too. This determination to keep proceedings light-hearted means that the tragedy towards the end is slightly glossed over, which is a shame as it would have served to counterpoint the comedy of the rest of the proceedings; however, this is really mere quibble. Return To The Forbidden Planet is a delight; chock-full of bombast, brio and brilliance. Please go to see it. And then you can try to explain the plot to somebody else. Good luck.

5 Star Rating

Review by Genni Trickett

Return To The Forbidden Planet
Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and packed with rock n’ roll classics including Great Balls of Fire, This is a Man’s World, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Who’s Sorry Now, Teenager in Love, Young Girl, Heard It Through the Grapevine, Johnny B. Goode and Born To Be Wild, Return to the Forbidden Planet is a musical of meteoric proportions that will be remembered for light years to come. With stunning special effects, a brilliant cast of actor-musicians, a mad scientist, a huge green-tentacled monster and a rock ’n’ roller-skating robot, your in-flight entertainment is guaranteed! So fasten your seatbelts, set your ray guns to stun and prepare for blast off!

Return To The Forbidden Planet, TRAILER

Review of performance at New Wimbledon Theatre
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Further tour dates here

Tuesday 24th March 2015


  • Genni Trickett

    Genni is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows. Genni has been passionate about theatre from an early age, performing in various productions throughout school and university. She is currently an enthusiastic member of an amateur dramatic society in South West London. Her favourite thing about living in London is the breath-taking variety of shows and theatrical talent. https://www.facebook.com/genevieve.trickett

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