Written by Bob Carlton
Directed by John Plews
Musical Supervisor:Marcus Adams
Choreographer: Grant Murphy
Set Design: Amy Yardley
Lighting Design: Sam Waddington
Sound Design: Nico Menghini
Associate Sound Design: Josh Robins
Costume Supervisor: May Clyne
Casting: Debbie O’Brien
Producer: Katie Plews for Ovation
Winner of the 1990 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’ is a rockin’ rollercoaster ride into the future. 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.
Great Balls of Fire, Teenager in Love, Good Vibrations, Shake Rattle & Roll, She’s Not There, Wipe Out and twenty other monster songs will keep you rockin’ all nite long.
Alex Fobbester – Captain Tempest
Training: Arts Educational Schools, London.
Theatre includes: Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story (UK Tour), Charlie/Cover Store Manager in Elf the Musical (The Dominion Theatre/Lowry Theatre, Salford).
Emma Fraser – Navigation Officer
Training: Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts: Postgraduate Diploma in Musical Theatre;
University of Surrey: First Class Music Degree.
Theatre includes: Posy in Beauty and the Beast (Newbury Corn Exchange), Wendy-Jo in Footloose (West End, UK & International Tour 2017), Genie in Aladdin (Theatr Clywd/Peter Rowe), Cerberus Sister/Pam in Les Enfants Terribles, The Vaudevillains (Edinburgh Fringe 2016), various roles in an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast (S4K Dubai tour), Nancy in Leader of the Pack (Waterloo East Theatre).
Emma also originated the role of Miss Grimsby in Brass (NYMT, Leeds City Varieties) and is featured on the original cast recording.
She is thrilled to be joining the Gatehouse for this epic space adventure! Enjoy the show!
Follow her on Twitter @thefraserem
Guy Freeman – Bosun
Training: Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts.
Theatre credits include: First cover Derek/ First Cover Outspan/ Ensemble in The Commitments (UK Tour), Actor/Deviser in Reclaimed (Wassail Theatre Company), Perault in Sleeping Beauty (South Hill Park Wilde Theatre), Morgan/Mrs Predegast & various roles in The Sorcerers Apprentice (Illyria Theatre Company UK Tour), Moritz in Spring Awakening (Logan West Productions/Dynamic Theatre), Ensemble in Street Theatre Devised Productions (The Natural Theatre Company), Young Matt in Muswell Hill & Happy Birthday Matt (The Orange Tree Theatre).
Stephanie Hockley – Miranda
Training: The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
Theatre includes: The Little Mermaid (Liverpool Everyman), Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Caesar (Storyhouse, Chester), Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel (Liverpool Everyman), Pieces of String (Park Theatre, London), Connected: The Musical (Pleasance Studio), Sleeping Beauty (Mercury Theatre), The Witch of Edmonton (Sam Wanamaker Festival at the Globe Theatre) and Loserville (YMT:UK).
Edward Hole – Cookie
Training: Actor Musicianship at Rose Bruford College.
Theatre Includes: Ensemble & Understudy Boggis/ Bunce/ Bean in Fantastic Mr Fox (Nuffield Theatre/ Lyric Hammersmith/ Leicester Curve & Tour), Nigel in Brilliance (Farnham Maltings).
Credits in Training: Ensemble/Musician in Run (Theatre Ad Infinitum at Rose Bruford), Caldwell B. Cladwell in Urinetown (Stratford Circus).
Edward also writes and records music both on his own and with his band, Les Gobelins.
Rhiannon Hopkins – Penny Scyllen/Musical Director
Training: Bodywork Company, Cambridge.
Theatre includes: Ensemble/Understudy Lady Vipera in Sleeping Beauty (Norwich Theatre Royal), Actor-Musician/Comedian in Funny Gals Friday (The Arts Theatre London), Singer/Pianist/Composer in Sister Mary’s Big Sunday Night (The Cockpit Theatre), Jill/Understudy Female Leads/Dance Captain in Jack and The Beanstalk (Everyman Theatre Cheltenham).
Further Credits: Musical Comedy Awards 2018, Quarter Finalist (The Phoenix, Cavendish Square), Keyboard Player (P&O Ventura), Dancer (Princess Cruises).
Chris Killik – Doctor Prospero
Training: Royal Academy of Music.
Theatre includes: Badger in The Wind in the Willows (Kew Gardens), Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Park Theatre), Elyot Chase in Private Lives (Playhouse Stockholm), Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Park Theatre), Mary Sunshine in Chicago (City Theatre Stockholm), Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (Park Theatre), Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar (Turku City Theatre), John Tallentire in The Hired Man (Old Laundry Theatre), Man 1 in Closer Than Ever (Cheltenham Playhouse), Dan in Closer (Helsinki Fringe), Long Tom in Merrie England (Finborough Theatre) Mr B in Pamela (Lost Theatre), Doctor Ackerman/1st cover Oliver in Love Story (The Duchess Theatre), Kevin in Ash (Arcola Theatre), Elma CandyJack in Sail Away (Sadler’s Wells).
Ellie Ann Lowe – Science Officer (Gloria)
Training: Guildford School of Acting.
Theatre includes: Amalia in Carmen (The Union), Lead Vocalist for Belinda King (Seabourn Quest Luxury Yacht), Adriana in Comedy of Errors (Antic Disposition at Gray’s Inn Hall & South of France Tour), Pauline Clench in One Man, Two Guvnors (Theatre Royal Windsor & Manor Pavilion Sidmouth), Anna Truman in Deadly Nightcap (Theatre Royal Windsor & Manor Pavilion Sidmouth), Grandma in Red Riding Hood (Middle East Tour), Ensemble in Miracle on 34th Street (Madinat Theatre Dubai), Dusty Springfield in DUSTY (Charing Cross Theatre), Connie/Cover Annette/Swing in Saturday Night Fever (National Tour), Ensemble in Love Story (Union Theatre).
Television Credits: Featured Dancer in Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball (BBC).
Simon Oskarsson – Ariel
Training: The Arts Educational School London
Whilst in training his roles included: Emcee in Cabaret, Ensemble in Top Hat, Reg in Round And Round The Garden, Monsieur Andre in The Phantom of the Opera. During his training he also performed as Ensemble in Olivier Awards 2017 and in Friday Night Is Music Night: Disney Broadway Hits at The Royal Albert Hall.
Other credits include: Bernardo in West Side Story (Växjö Teater), Claude in Hair – The Musical (Nöjesteatern in Malmö) and Ensemble in Miss Saigon (Malmö Opera).
David Persiva – Mike Roechip aka ‘Sticks’
Training: University of Winchester.
Theatre credits: Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night (The Minack Theatre, Cornwall). Prior to this he was directed by Edward Bond in Edward’s play Olly’s Prison (The National Theatre of Malta).
Television credits: Kiss Me First (CH4/Netflix) and Dixi4 (CBBC).
As a writer, David’s work has been produced by Fever Dream Theatre Company and 1880 (The Vaults) and has new writing in development for television. He performs regularly with his band Montrell. David is thrilled to be a part of the Return to the Forbidden Planet team.
Lewys Taylor – Bud Visor
Training: Rose Bruford College.
Theatre includes: Peter in Peter & the Wolf (UK tour), Ensemble in Thunderstruck (Camden People’s Theatre), Peter in The Fletton Railway Children (Eastern Angles), Charles in Only Forever (Hope Theatre Islington).
Lewys works regularly as a voiceover artist.
Notable voiceover work includes: When Greeks Flew Kites (Radio 4), Captain Bayley’s Heir (Heirloom Audio), Sirens, The Smiling Man (Random House Audiobooks for Audible).
Angela Rippon CBE – Intergalactic Newscaster
Angela began reading the Nine O’Clock News on BBC1 in 1970. She was the first female journalist permanently to present the BBC national television news. Angela appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show in 1976, presented the first two series of Top Gear and also presented Come Dancing. She was a presenter on, and co-founder of, breakfast television franchise TV-am. In the 1990s, she moved to radio, presenting for LBC Newstalk, and appeared on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast as a newsreader. Since 2009, she has co-presented the BBC consumer show Rip Off Britain with Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville and since 2013, she has co-hosted Holiday Hit Squad on the BBC alongside Helen Skelton and Joe Crowley. Angela was awarded the CBE in the 2017 Queen’s New Years Honours List for her services to Dementia Care.
Director: John Plews
Producer: Katie Plews
Musical Supervisor: Marcus Adams
Choreographer: Grant Murphy
Musical Director: Rhiannon Hopkins
Set Design: Amy Yardley
Lighting Design: Sam Waddington
Sound Design: Nico Menghini
Associate Sound Design: Josh Robins
Assistant Director (Dialogue): Chloe Christian
Assistant Director (Music): Lauren Storer
Wig/Hair/Make up Advisor: Jessica Plews
Costume Supervisor: May Clyne
Stage Manager: Ally Southern
Musical Consultant: Julian Littman
Poster Design: Mary Musker
Sound Operator: Reuben Batdorff
Scenic Painter: Pollyanna Elston
Casting: Debbie O’Brien
Set Builders: Gary Swain, Michael Ranson, Benjamin Bailey, Andy Lawson
by Darren Bell
Aline Waites, Remote Goat★★★★★
Imagine a reworking of an old Science Fiction Musical of the 1950s; The Tempest and other plays by William Shakespeare and mix it up with wonderful fifties Rock and Roll music. Imagine this fusion performed by some totally brilliant musicians who are all trained actors and dancers in addition to playing at least two different instruments.
If you can imagine this, fine – if you can’t, all you have to do is go down to the Gatehouse Theatre in Highgate and see all these things happen in front of your eyes, directed by John Plews with Marcus Adams as musical supervisor, an amazingly inventive set design by Amy Yardley magnificently lit by Sam Waddington and with eccentric choreography by Grant Murphy.
Briefly we are on space ship Albatross with all in attractive blue uniforms, the girls in wondrous silver leggings and Louise Brookes type wigs all of different colours.
After a brief introduction on screen, by the Intergalactic News reader, the full company play the Overture including a famous fifties orchestral piece “Telstar” We meet the officers of the Albatross and there are altercations between Captain Tempest (Alex Fobbester) and the Science Officer (Ellie Ann Lowe) “It’s a Man’s World”
Suddenly they encounter “Great Balls of Fire” and they land on the Forbidden Planet where they meet up with the Doctor Prospero (Chris Killick) , his lovely teenage daughter Miranda (Stephanie Hockley) and Ariel, the silver Robot he has constructed . Ariel is an amazing creature played by Simon Oskarsson on roller skates and who never loses his robot like movement throughout even when he is singing with his magnificent operatic voice “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Shake Rattle and Roll” He also plays the trumpet to accompany himself and others.
Prospero is a Doctor Who style genius who is working on Telegenesis in order to open up nine tenths of the brain known as the X Factor.
There is an immediate attraction between the Captain and Miranda but he thinks she is too young so she is simply “a teenager in love” She is admired even more so by Cookie (Edward Hole) the acrobatic, singing cook of the Albatross who falls deeply in love with her.
It is only fair to mention the rest of the brilliant cast Emma Fraser as Navigation Officer and saxophonist; Guy Freeman as Bosun; David Persiva; Lewys Taylor and most essentially Rhiannon Hopkins, the musical director who also plays sax and the role of Penny Cyllan.
To add to the magic, the script is in Iambic Pentameters and includes many brief quotes and misquotes from Shakespeare slipped into the dialogue without warning. Just as snippets of songs are included – a short reference to “The Young Ones” performed by Cookie, Bosun and Bud as Hank Marvin and the Shadows gets a round of applause.
As an extra bonus The Intergalactic Newsreader making the announcements is Gatehouse regular Angela Rippon.
This is probably the most hilarious and appealing musical of the many many successful shows at the Gatehouse directed by the great John Plews.
View the original review at Remote Goat
Scott Matthewman, Musical Theatre Review ★★★★★
Since it was first created by writer/director Bob Carlton in the late 1980s, Return to the Forbidden Planet has acquired something approaching cult status. The combination of cheesy 1950s B-movie science fiction, Shakespearean dialogue and rock‘n’roll performed by a group of actor-musicians is a winning combination when done well – and in Upstairs at the Gatehouse’s revival, it is done very well indeed.
The 1956 film Forbidden Planet, about a spaceship and its crew that end up on a desolate planet inhabited by a scientist, his daughter and an array of near-invisible creatures, was itself inspired by The Tempest. Carlton’s conceit takes the film’s general structure, but takes the dialogue back to its Shakespearean roots – not only from The Tempest, but with liberal helpings of Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and many more.
In this version, the spaceship Albatross is helmed by Alex Fobbester’s Captain Tempest, a pipe-smoking English cove, who leads a crew of rock‘n’roll loving musicians. The traverse staging and a slew of wireless technologies allow musicians and instruments to be more highly mobile than one might expect, musical director Rhiannon Hopkins often playing keyboards on the move.
As the Albatross lands on the planet D’Illyria and the crew encounters Chris Killik’s Doctor Prospero, his daughter Miranda (Stephanie Hockley) and a roller-skating, body popping robot Ariel, a love triangle begins to emerge between Tempest, Miranda and the ship’s cook, Cookie.
And while the romance between captain and scientist’s daughter never quite convinces, Edward Hole’s performance as the lovelorn Cookie sells the whole concept. Most notable are his barnstorming solo renditions of ‘She’s Not There’ and ‘Only the Lonely’, which deservedly bring the house down.
But it is Simon Oskarsson’s Ariel who comes to draw the eye. Helped by an expertly applied make-up job, the robotic roller skater can’t help but gain attention, and thankfully there is a skilful performance at work as well. Much the same can be said for the rest of the cast, too, whose renditions of classic numbers including ‘A Teenager in Love’, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ and ‘Monster Mash’ cannot help but bring a smile to one’s face.
With Grant Murphy’s effervescent choreography and a set design which houses more than one surprise, Upstairs at the Gatehouse revitalises a musical that, when more traditionally presented, could have shown its age.
Instead, Return to the Forbidden Planet becomes one of the most enjoyable nights out to be had on the London fringe this year. One feels that Bob Carlton, who passed away in January this year, has been justly commemorated here.
View the original review at Musical Theatre Review
Peter Yates, London Theatre1 ★★★★★
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!
View the original review at LondonTheatre1
Deborah Jeffries, London Pub Theatres ★★★★★
As Director John Plews says in the programme of his production of Return to the Forbidden Planet “this is Shakespeare, but not as we know it”. Currently showing Upstairs at the Gatehouse in the very pretty Highgate Village (London, but not as we know it!), this production by Ovation is a revival of the original “Jukebox musical”, which combines a mash up of many Shakespearean speeches with a collection of rock ‘n’ roll hits from the 50s/60s.
Thinly disguised as The Tempest, with Chris Killik as Doctor Prospero and Stephanie Hockley as his daughter Miranda, anyone with a basic knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays will recognise the bard-stardisation of speeches from Macbeth, Othello, King Lear and Hamlet, to name but a few. My very favourite quote is “to beep or not to beep, that is the question”. As they’d say in panto parlance, “if you think that’s bad, it don’t get any better than this!”
Music is an integral part of any production of this show, and every cast member was an excellent singer and could play multiple instruments. For me, the stand out performances were Ellie Ann Lowe, especially as the glamorous G.L.O.R.I.A, Edward Hole, as Cookie and, by far the best performance in a musical I have seen for ages, Simon Oskarsson as Ariel. Is there anything that this young man can’t do? Playing the trumpet and singing whilst robotic dancing and body-popping – are these attributes that casting directors look for these days?
Bob Carlton, the show’s writer, has been attributed with inventing the actor-musician – a role commonly featured in musicals and pantos today. This production demonstrates a symbiosis of actor and instrument that is pretty close to perfection. In this regard, Hole totally stole the show with his virtuoso guitar playing. This show is definitely a retro piece and took me back to the 80s when my world revolved around rock guitar riffs, more than it did to the 50s B science-fiction-horror movie it was originally inspired by. However, this simply demonstrates how a musical with a flimsy plot can be situated in almost any era. Thanks to Musical supervisor, Marcus Adams, we were also treated to a smidgen of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’, as well as ‘Yeh Yeh’ and ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’, none of which appeared in the original 1980s incarnation.
In terms of production, I was very impressed at how Plews cleverly directed the actors within the constraints of the tight space available. I loved the way they effortlessly moved the keyboard around on wheels and bounded up the ladder to the platform where Mike Roechip, aka ‘Sticks’ the drummer, was situated. The space below this platform acted as the starship’s hold, complete with obligatory dry ice. A second keyboard was situated at the other end of the stage ‘corridor’ (the audience sits on two sides of the auditorium) on another platform, in front of a projection screen that included footage of an introduction by Angela Rippon! I won’t tell you what that housed or how it heightened an entrance by Prospero, but it was certainly novel, unexpected and fabulous!
Upstairs at the Gatehouse is a venue with heart. The Front of House team is very welcoming, and the seats are pretty comfortable for a pub theatre. I suspect that when word gets about regarding the quality and sheer exuberance of this production and the overall warmth of the whole experience, you might have to kill an intergalactic alien to get a ticket!
View the original review at London Pub Theatres
Paul Vale, The Stage ★★★★
Bob Carlton’s Return to the Forbidden Planet first landed in the West End in 1989 where it surprised many by beating Miss Saigon to the Olivier award for best new musical. Carlton’s recipe for success fuses rock ‘n roll standards with Shakespeare and science fiction to create one of the earliest modern jukebox musicals.
Director John Plews has gathered an enthusiastic and talented cast who pitch the story at just the right level of camp to make it fly, highlighted by presenter Angela Rippon featuring as an on-screen narrator. Amy Yardley’s lavender and pink set design helps set the tone, complementing the powder blue uniforms of the crew of the spaceship Albatross as it heads for the planet D’Illyria.
Alex Fobbester is an appropriately square-jawed Captain Tempest while Ellie Ann Lowe delivers a powerhouse vocal performance as the wronged woman, Gloria. Stephanie Hockley oozes playful innocence as Miranda singing Teenager In Love but it’s Edward Hole as Cookie who captures the energy and angst of unrequited love. Hole’s rendition of She’s Not There, complete with frenzied guitar riffs and rasping Shakespearian prose lends beef to the fairly patchy narrative and all-but stops the show with its power.
In a show that demands versatility from its actor/musician cast Simon Oskarsson as the robot Ariel stands out. Making his professional debut painted silver, Oskarsson body-pops on roller skates throughout, even while belting out accompaniment on the trumpet. It’s a credit to Oskarsson that after all this, the actor still manages to invest the tin man with a distinctly likeable personality.
View the original review at The Stage
David Winskill, Ham & High ★★★★★
View the full review here
Julian Eaves, BritishTheatre.com ★★★★
Ovation Productions, Katie and John Plews’ resident house company in their long-established London Fringe theatre in the heart of Highgate Village, continue their spring season with a splendid production of this seminal, genre-making musical about high-minded space explorers and mass-appeal rock and roll, featuring, as the programme declares: ‘daring heroes’, ‘strange places’ and ‘terrifying monsters’.
Originally brought into the world by Bob Carlton, and endlessly revived since, the action, we are told, takes place aboard the fictional spaceship ‘Albatross’ in the year 2042. The plot is based on elements lifted out of the iconic MGM 1950’s sci-fi epic, ‘Forbidden Planet’, which itself is a re-working of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. Carlton, a pioneering theatrical populist, in fact stuffs his script with extensive quotations from plenty of other works in the Shakespearean canon, often applying them in highly original and memorable ways, giving them one fresh new twist after another. This rich classic texture is then interleaved with mainly brilliantly interpolated numbers from the golden age of rock and roll pop music, which provide welcome respite from the florid spoken text (much, indeed, as also do the 10 songs Shakespeare put into his original version of ‘The Tempest’, many or much of which were not written by him at all).
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.
View the original review at BritishTheatre.com
Jonathan Baz, Jonathan Baz Reviews ★★★★
In what is the first staging of Return To The Forbidden Planet since the death of its creator Bob Carlton, John Plews has put together a production that captures the show’s irreverent spirit. It was Carlton who on watching the 1950s B-Movie Forbidden Planet, first spied the potential to create a trinity of cultural fusion – blending cliched Hollywood not only with Shakespeare, but with rock and roll too.
In a story that is (very, very) loosely connected to The Tempest, Carlton threw into the pot every hackneyed Shakespearean quote, and then some more, together with some of the strongest songs from 50 and 60 years ago, resulting in an evening of unpretentious fun delivered by a company of actor-musicians.
With the Gatehouse configured in its compact traverse arrangement, simple scenic constructions suggest the spaceship Albatross upon which the action plays out. The plot is beyond credible description, though in all honesty no-one really cares as the corny links serve only as filler between each eagerly awaited number.
Plews’ cast is, for the most part, youthful – and it shows. For Return To The Forbidden Planet to really work, every vocal soloist needs to step out of their musical theatre training and immerse themselves in the persona of a guitar-smashing rock star. These songs were written for rock gigs, not seated sedentary sexagenarians – so when health and safety (and quite possibly a few doctors’ orders too) keep the Highgate audience firmly seated, it becomes beholden upon the cast to make the songs soar. To be fair, there are some glimpses of excellence amongst Plews’ company: Edward Hole’s Cookie gives a blistering take on She’s Not There complete with awesome guitar riff; Ellie Ann Lowe’s entrance and vocals as Gloria (and wow, those boots too!) are a cracker, while third year Arts Ed student Simon Oskarsson offers up a robotic Ariel that has to be seen to be believed, such is this young man’s impressive talent. (Has Arts Ed lecturer Mark Shenton been teaching him the moves?) A nod too for David Persiva’s powerful percussion delivered from a lofty drum kit, that drives the show’s tempo.
Its grins and tapping feet throughout, as Return To The Forbidden Planet’s return to the Gatehouse makes for a grand night out.
View the original review at Jonathan Baz Reviews
Theatre Gremlin ★★★★
This is one of my all time favourite shows, although it feels like it is not that well known. When we saw that Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate were putting it on, we had to go and see it.
I know the show extremely well as I saw it at least two or three times after it first opened in the West End in 1989. I also had the soundtrack which I must have played on repeat for a few years! The songs are mainly songs from the ’50s and ’60s, chosen to fit in with the storyline and they work extremely well. To this day, if I hear the original version of a song from this show, I will still in my head be singing the Return to the Forbidden Planet version.
It’s an extremely entertaining show, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the sci fi film Forbidden Plant and has the tagline “Shakespeare’s forgotten rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece.”
The cast were all great and have to be multi-talented as they all had to act, sing, dance and play musical instruments.
The standout performance we most enjoyed was Simon Oskarrson as the robot Ariel. He perfectly portrayed a robot with his actions, voice and reactions and he had to do it all on roller skates! We frequently found ourselves just watching him even if the action was going on at the other end of the room as we kind of found ourselves transfixed by him. I also managed to get a high five from him at one point!
It’s on until 17th June and well worth a visit if you can.
View the original review at Theatre Gremlin
Michael Stewart, Camden New Journal
Michael Stewart, Camden New Journal
BASED on the campy 50s science-fiction film The Forbidden Planet which in turn was the bastard offspring of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, this new production of the late Bob Carlton’s jukebox musical boldly goes where it never went before, namely Upstairs at the Gatehouse, and takes it by storm… or tempest.
Both the film and the Bard’s play failed miserably to supply any good tunes but here in John Plews’ joyous, barnstorming production we are bombarded by an ecstatic meteor shower of 50s and 60s hits. Captain Tempest and his crew of the Starship Albatross are being belted by asteroids or “Great Balls of Fire” as his crew so poetically put it.
Mysteriously drawn to the aptly named planet D’Illyria (Shakespeare’s Illyria) they are met by its sole inhabitants: mad scientist Doctor Prospero and his nubile daughter Miranda (sweet-voiced Stephanie Hockley). She has never seen a young man before and she is soon erupting in Good Vibrations from the pipe-clenching Captain who fends her off with a blast of Young Girl.
Do the songs fit the action or inspire it? It doesn’t matter. Who needs a logical plot when you’ve got such a brilliant, multi-talented troupe as this one? Guitars, keyboards, drums, saxes and trumpets get twanged, thumped and blown and Edward Hole as Cookie equals (even surpasses) Mark Knopfler in his guitar solo.
Scene-stealer Simon Oskarsson as Ariel floats ethereally on skates (contrast the film’s obese Robbie the Robot). Alex Fobbester as Tempest has the purest and most powerful voice.
As for Shakespeare, he gets plundered wholesale and much of the dialogue is a mix-and-match cornucopia of Bardisms.
I could return again and again to this Forbidden Planet.
View the original review at Camden New Journal
Howard Loxton, British Theatre Guide
Billed as “Shakespeare’s forgotten rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece”, this reworking of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, studded with rock and pop chart hits from the ’50s and ’60s and loosely based on ’50s sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, won the Olivier Award for Best Musical in 1990. It has seen several revivals, though this is the first time I’ve been exposed to it! I wonder why? After all I like both Shakespeare and Science Fiction and I remember most of these songs from when they were new sounds!
John Plews’s production is not just a nostalgia trip to the ’50s and ’60s—though the songs get a vibrant performance from a cast who all seem to play multiple instruments as well as sing and dance—but a lively and entertaining evening.
With a plot that takes bits from The Tempest, throws in some King Lear and Romeo and Juliet (including Angela Rippon as Chorus seen on screen as an intergalactic TV newsreader), it delivers a story a little more logical than the b-picture movie that inspired it; it steals lines from across the whole works of Shakespeare and makes up some more with the same rhythms and rhyming.
Designer Amy Yardley has done a great job in recreating a ’50s view of the future, more Thunderbirds than Star Wars, including a many-limbed monster with comic death throes, Technicolor hairstyles and a silver-skinned robot Ariel (a splendid performance on roller skates from Simon Oskarsson) who has been created by Chris Killik’s Dr Prospero.
This Prospero is a mad scientist who has been cast off earth by his wife Gloria (who at first seems to be the villain of the piece). He is working on developing telegenesis, creating living creatures from the thoughts emanating from the Id. Now he is on the planet D’Illyria with his daughter Miranda (Stephanie Hockley, who makes a quick transformation from innocent child to flirty teenager). It is on D’Illyria (and yes, there are borrowings from Twelfth Night) that the space ship Albatross makes a crash landing that may not be entirely accidental.
The Albatross is commanded by Captain Tempest (Alex Fobbester, who confidently handles his iambic pentameter, pointing his meaning with his pipe), a man whom Miranda soon dotes on. It is crewed by a Navigation Officer (Emma Fraser), Bosun (Guy Freeman), Cookie (Edward Hole) who falls for Miranda in a big way, Mike (drummer David Persiva), Bud (Lewys Taylor), Penny (Rhiannon Hopkins) and the new Science Officer (Ellie Ann Lowe) who turns out to be Gloria. Almost everyone seems at home on electric guitar, drums and keyboard—plus a couple of saxophones and a tambourine.
I won’t tell you what else happens but it is all lively mayhem, resentment, romance and a riot of music with an extra level of pleasure for those who know their Shakespeare in recognizing from whence each line has been lifted, enjoying the re-coinings and newly invented verse.
There is a point when it reaches Prospero’s farewell speech that it seems to be ending and what comes after seems a little drawn out and times when the drumming and guitars drown out the lyrics (though that didn’t matter—the audience all seemed to know them). I’d never thought myself a rock fan but I loved it and found myself joining in a standing ovation, for this is a multi-talented company.
Great Balls of Fire! It’s full of Good Vibrations (and more than 20 other hit songs) and packed with energy that explodes on stage: John Plews has made it into a joyful celebration.
View the original review at British Theatre Guide
John Myatt, Entertainment Focus
Theatre isn’t just the story, the characters, even the idea. Often the experience boils down to that magic chemistry between you and the performers. The live connection. The three-dimensional thrill. The dazzle of watching talent spin up a world in front of you. And there’s no doubting that this production is packed with fantastic abilities, creating a magical mash-up of Shakespeare, sci-fi B-movie and pop hits.
‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’ is perhaps the first of the jukebox musicals. And perhaps the most jukebox of all. Throughout its space tale, based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the sci-fi classic of the same name, we’re frequently entertained by a variety of chart hits from the 50s and 60s. If any back catalogue is being singularly plundered, it’s the Bard’s. Between the various songs, weaving between deliberately dubious dialogue, we get riffs on famous lines and full-scale snatches from Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream … even Henry V. It’s a smart and warm-hearted world that feels very fringe, and definitely cabaret. Which isn’t to say ‘this show is cheap’: the fourth-wall play of cabaret and the lo-fi chutzpah of fringe are elements to embrace. This is a show that rightly deserved its Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1989. It’s a pearl of a piece and pretty irresistible.
But what of this particular production, resurrected after all these years in which ‘jukebox’ has become shorthand for theatrical shortcuts and, as some would say, ‘creative laziness’?
Upstairs at the Gatehouse has been raising its own bar over the years with awards for Legally Blonde, Avenue Q, Anything Goes and The Drowsy Chaperone. Here they take on a show that might seem safe, a crowd-pleaser of limited proportions and easy expectations. But this is no safe bet. This is ambition writ large. Jukebox it may be, but Bob Carlton’s unique take on disparate worlds is a fiendish challenge. The slipping between Shakespeare and song, between kitsch and clever, is no cake-walk for its performers. Comedy chops are vital. Performance chops that navigate shifts in plot and tone are absolutely essential. For the Gatehouse to place this on a traverse stage, peopled with actor-musicians, is another level again. And for the most part, the attempt pays off. When this show hits its stride, the effect is theatrical magic.
In a world of beautifully committed performances, several stand out. Ellie Ann Lowe delivers a gorgeous-voiced, rock-out performance as Gloria. Edward Hole as Cookie gives us a journey that brings Act 1 to a show-stopping solo climax: there’s the voice, the guitar, and the stage presence of a major talent. And then there’s Simon Oskarsson as Ariel, making his theatrical debut, and serving the most excellent, detailed performance that’s almost impossible to ignore, even when the stage is full of other characters’ stories. Whether he’s roller-skating around the tricky playing space, playing glorious trumpet, or using every part of his body to draw your eye, Oskarsson as Prospero’s fast-learning robot is magically magnetic. If this is debut, I cannot wait for what’s next.
If this production has any issues, they are mostly with its tech and staging. While the screen is a necessary device, and its use as a framing device from star-narrator Angela Rippon, wonderfully worked, there’s still a few issues. The lag of an off-stage interaction is awkward. The presentation of Caliban and sci-fi comic panels reads a little ‘student production’. I craved a little less tech and a little more lo-fi at times, to be more like the wooden ‘O’ of the Globe and let this ferocious bunch of performers get creative with the limitations. More fun, I thought. More silly, B-movie movie fun like the shows from fringe marvels like Kill The Beast.
The sound was also an issue at times. Blame the traverse presentation, the live spread of instruments, and the miked performers … the symptom, I guess, of full sound and energy. But a little more tech might have solved the issue. And might still do.
And so to the staging … yes, it was always interesting and the space made exciting. But the picky person in me wanted a little more focus, the confidence to let some scenes play in a single area, rather than spread across the stage. That said, this is a niggle. And in the spirit of this kind of show, it’s more of a nudge, to get this show on its way to the lo-fo slick that will help with the distancing issue that jukebox musicals face. Top tech doesn’t necessarily help. In fact, in this world, I think it hinders. Embrace the limitations, say I. Be a little more fringe cabaret!
Come the end of the show (and there seemed to be about three conclusions), I was definitely entertained and uplifted. Although there may be some three-star decisions and nerves on show, there’s also some five-star performances and five-star moments. With this much talent blasting out a show, who knows, this could well find that giddy orbit of the five-star experience that everyone’s going to love.
View the original review at Entertainment Focus
Amelia Brown, The Spy in the Stalls
The Intergalactic Starship Albatross, with Captain Tempest at its helm, is on a standard interplanetary scientific survey mission, when it is pulled onto a planet not even marked on their cosmic charts. Here they find Doctor Prospero and his daughter Miranda, and discover Prospero’s secret formula for telegenesis, a dangerous invention that aims to be able to create matter from brain power alone. So ensues a cult tale of love, trickery, deception and monsters.
The musical by Bob Carlton, which won the 1990 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, is a well crafted mixture of fifties and sixties pop anthems and Shakespearean text. The musical is loosely based on the 1950s film ‘Forbidden Planet’, which was based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ but the piece borrows lines from across Shakespeare’s oeuvre: “Two beeps or not two beeps, that is the question” was a particular favourite with the audience. The word play is intelligent and witty, and we don’t lose a syllable of it thanks to the cast’s clear and lively delivery.
The actor-musician cast is consistently strong all round, deftly switching from vocals to saxophones and trumpets, led by musical director Rhiannon Hopkins. Simon Oskarsson’s fantastic robot on roller skates Ariel, is the standout performance of the production, a detailed and committed characterisation full of energy, playfulness and wit. The evil Gloria played by Ellie Ann Lowe is also particularly strong – slick, fierce and effortless, something which other members of the cast could learn from as there are a few too many moments where it is clear how hard this cast are working. Certainly playing instruments, singing, dancing and acting is no easy feat, but the cast need to make it look easy, something I’m sure they will achieve as they settle into the run. In fact there isn’t a weak link across the cast in terms of talent, though at times certain performances could be a little more streamlined, the brilliant energy levels just a little more focused.
A few things need ironing out – there’s the odd technical issue and clumsy musical moment but the audience is so onside that these moments are utterly forgivable. The production is brimming with wit and silliness, no desire to take itself too seriously, something which is echoed in the design – neon blue space suits and yellow and purple set designed by Amy Yardley.
This production is undeniably great fun, supported by consistently strong performances, and you will be sure to leave with a smile on your face.
View the original review at The Spy in the Stalls