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Review of Return to the Forbidden Planet at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Tempest, Bud, Miranda, Penny
Tempest, Bud, Miranda, Penny

Forget R2-D2, forget C-3PO, forget BB-8 and even forget Daleks: if you want the real deal in robotic action then you won’t do any better than getting along to Upstairs @ the Gatehouse for the superlative production of Bob Carlton’s wondrous sci-fi/pop-classic/Bardoramic musical Return To The Forbidden Planet.

The roller-skating, mute-trumpet-playing, laser-wielding, hot-pants-wearing silver Deus ex Metallica known as Ariel is the impeccable creation of Simon Oskarsson and is the star of a show of many stars. Oskarsson twists and turns and ducks and dives and bobs and weaves and jumps and gyrates like a slim-line pressure cooker on speed. He’s mastered the android vibe to perfection as well as delivering some really ‘Good Vibrations’ and an exquisite rendering of the Connie Francis classic ‘Who’s Sorry Now’. And he plays a mean trumpet. On skates.

The show was conceived by Carlton (who sadly passed away this year) for a troupe of actor-musicians and a classier bunch of such troubadours you are unlikely to discover. Guitars, keyboards, drums, saxes, clarinets, keyboards and cow-bells are all played with ultimate aplomb in a mix-and-match melange of uber-confident and highly competent cast members who buy into the spirit of going where no show has gone before completely and ensure that they take the whole audience with them on that eclectic journey.

The crew is led by Alex Fobbester as Captain Tempest who sets the tone with his irritatingly secure false moustache and who specialises in Leslie Nielsenesque expressions of blank bemusement. Having teased us early on with ‘It’s A Man’s World’ (fortunately Twitter Outrage didn’t exist when Carlton originally penned that sardonically mysogenistic scene) before going full reverse-cradle-snatch with Union Gap’s seminal cri de coeur ‘Young Girl’. The tallest Prospero you’ve ever set eyes on strides into the action via Chris Killik who pleads not to be misunderstood (his height making this unlikely) and he gets to give the spud-u-like song with his crazed rendition of ‘Monster Mash’ at the end of the show.

The actual monster deserves a mention – a sprawling, green-tentacled, smoke-blowing, cross between a giant whoopee-cushion and a demented bouncy castle which “grows” out of the set. I assume Designer Amy Yardley
takes credit for this ingenious monstrosity though perhaps Casting Supervisor Debbie O’Brien had to scour the Spotlight directories to find and cast a suitably creepy reptilian multiped.

Lewys Taylor (Bud Visor), Emma Fraser (Navigation Officer), Guy Freeman (Bosun) Rhiannon Hopkins (Penny Scyllan) and David Persiva (Mike Roechip aka “Sticks”) all play their energetic and effervescent parts, strumming, plucking, blowing and bashing their way through the sound barrier to rip into the outer reaches of the space-time continuum (or something) and they leave no asteroid unturned in their collective efforts to ensure we get the full deep-space experience.

Arriving through the time-lock door in a swirl of smoke and svelteness with the swagger of a catwalk model is Gloria, originally the Science Officer but now the villain of the piece as she half-inched husband Prospero’s brain-enhancing, world-changing, mind-blowing, elusive X-Factor formula with which she intends to do a deal of ominously evil mischief (or something). Ellie Ann Lowe gives us an elegantly sinister and sensually enigmatic portrayal as the scheming inter-stellar minx and delivers the wonderful Them standard ‘Gloria’ with a kind of sub-feminist menace that tells us, no, actually it’s not ‘A Man’s World’ after all. Great stuff by Lowe.

Prospero’s daughter Miranda, unwittingly catapulted with him into the hyperspace experience (or something), is captured with endearing ballsiness and teenage love-angst by Stephanie Hockley. Her rendition of ‘Teenager In
Love’, that delicious ’fifties classic by Dion and the Belmonts, is a true wonder of the supernova something something world, with her strong, husky, Country-style vocals.

And then there’s Cookie, played with dextrously outrageous neo-Claptonesqe bravado by Edward Hole. Talk about hiding your light under a bushel. He pines and simpers away, the epitome of the love-lorn introverted teenager until he suddenly explodes into life with one of my all time favourites – the Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’ – giving us a Knopfler/Green/Page/Hendrix/Hank Marvin (or someone) extended guitar break to die for. This is class, this is musicianship, this is rock this is the ultimate in inter-galactic Glasto-nomical superstardom: Hole makes his Stratocaster (probably) cry, he makes it sing and it sure as hell ain’t gonna gently weep in the corner. Brilliant.

John Plews directs the show – on a traverse stage which is great at immersing the audience in the action – and what an amazing job he does. There’s an impressive Production Team who all deserve plaudits with special mentions for Musical Supervisor Marcus Adams and Sound Designers Nico Menghini and Josh Robins who ensure that the good ship Albatross doesn’t flounder on those deep-space obstacles poor reverb and dodgy feedback. Plews has a great ensemble of actor-musicians, technicians and creatives and he has them handling lift-off and landing to perfection. This really is an enjoyable show!

There’s been some discussion this week about mobile ’phone use in the theatre. No-one would dare to fire up their mobile in this show because they would risk being accidentally beamed up to the lonely planet Dillyria, with nothing but Prospero’s boring old books for entertainment, being forced to listen to the interminable metallic drivelly monotonous witterings of Android Ariel (though he does sing sweetly) whilst having to constantly repeat the Reverse Polarity Procedure that the audience is cajoled into rehearsing before and during the show.

No, take my advice and stay immersed in the show, feet firmly rooted on terra unfirma, boldly ignoring your smart ’phone like what you have never done before. Loved the show – but think we should all pass on any other mobile-
induced extended space travel at this point, please!

5 Star Rating

Review by Peter Yates

Winner of the 1990 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, Return to the Forbidden Planet is a rockin’ rollercoaster ride into the future bursting with red hot hits, including Great Balls of Fire, Good Vibrations, Teenager in Love, The Young Ones and The Monster Mash.

Join Captain Tempest and the crew of the Intergalactic Starship Albatross as they travel deep into hyperspace. What’s waiting for them?……a mad scientist, a secret formula, a scary monster and D’illyria – a planet not marked on their cosmic charts.

Loosely based on the 1950’s sci-fi film ‘Forbidden Planet’ (which itself was based on ‘The Tempest’) author Bob Carlton has created a riotous mix of Shakespeare, B movie Science Fiction and some of the biggest pop hits from the fifties and sixties. So fasten your seat belts, set your ray guns to stun and get ready for a cosmic adventure of meteoric proportions!

Alex Fobbester – Captain Tempest
Emma Fraser – Navigation Officer
Guy Freeman – Bosun
Stephanie Hockley – Miranda
Edward Hole – Cookie
Rhiannon Hopkins – Penny Scyllen
Christopher Killik – Prospero
Ellie Ann Lowe – Science Officer
Simon Oskarsson – Ariel
David Persiva – Mike Roechip
Lewys Taylor – Bud Visor

Director – John Plews
Musical Supervisor – Marcus Adams
Choreographer – Grant Murphy
Designer – Amy Yardley
Lighting Designer – Sam Waddington
Sound Designer – Nico Menghini
Costume Supervisor – May Clyne
Casting – Debbie O’Brien
Musical Consultant – Julian Littman
Stage Manager – Ally Southern
Produced by Katie Plews for Ovation

Return to the Forbidden Planet
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
12th May – 17th June 2018


  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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