Return to the Forbidden Planet

Mar 11 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Star struck

Festival Theatre: Tue 10 – Sat 14 March 2015

With enough energy to power a spaceship, Return to the Forbidden Planet takes the audience at the Festival Theatre on a journey into sheer delight.

Return to the Forbidden Planet burst onto the West End stage in 1989. I have no idea how that translates into a Gene Roddenberry stardate, but I do see why it’s stood the test of space time. One of the first jukebox musicals, boasting a better script than most which followed, the sheer quality of the material makes for an irresistible combination in the hands of immensely talented actor-musicians.

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

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

And that’s exactly what this 25th anniversary touring production has – a core cast of 11 players who play and play and play. They play multiple instruments. They play with one another. They play with Bob Carlton’s witty script.

The play’s the thing, which is as it should be in a show based extremely loosely – think Ronnie Corbett in John Goodman’s trousers – on Fifties science fiction movie Forbidden Planet, itself a very tenuous take on The Tempest. The script is all Shakespeare quotes, cod Shakespeare quotes and quotes Shakespeare would have come up with if he’d heard of Primark. It’s glorious fun, delivered with brio by a cast with a massive collective love of cheese.

The sci-if spoof sees Captain Tempest and the crew of his interplanetary craft – a circular set cum bandstand – drawn to a mysterious world where scientist Dr Prospero and his daughter Miranda have been exiled by the former’s wife, Gloria. Miranda falls for Tempest, while ship’s chef Cookie swoons over the space virgin.

Monster from the Id

As well as the emotional conflict there’s physical danger in the form of the Monster from the Id which, come to think of it, is emotional conflict made manifest.

It’s all a bit bonkers, and spotting the sources of the Bardic banter adds to the amusement – Carlton plunders pretty much any Shakespeare work you can think of. The actors deliver the verse respectably, and nail the gags, but it’s their musicianship that truly astonishes. Look, there’s the robotic Ariel on trombone. And electric guitar. And drums. And keyboards. And what a terrific singing voice. Oh, he can dance too … And that’s true of the entire ensemble.

Mark Newnham as Cookie (centre) and the cast of Return to the Forbidden Planet. Photo: Nobby Clark

Mark Newnham as Cookie (centre) and the cast of Return to the Forbidden Planet. Photo: Nobby Clark

With everyone so equally matched it’s pretty much impossible to name a standout. Every one of the cast is outstanding, from Sean Needham’s Tempest to Joseph Mann’s Ariel, Sarah Scowen’s Miranda, Jonathan Markwood’s Dr Prospero, Steve Simmonds’ Bosun Arras – the lot of ’em, basically. There is one big spotlight moment, though, as the conflicted Cookie (Mark Newnham) sells an extraordinary guitar solo spinning out of She’s Not There.

Another highlight is Good Vibrations, with the team, under the assured musical direction of Navigation Officer Greg Last, doing Brian Wilson and co proud, while a mash-up of Wipe Out and Telstar gets the spine tingling. Other goodies include Teenager in Love, Gotta Get Out of This Place and, well, too many to mention. Don’t, though, wander off when it seems the show is ended, as there’s a meteorically marvellous encore.

There’s also a great cameo from Edinburgh’s own Grant Stott, coming on as Chorus for the Second Act – the start of the show has Queen’s Brian May setting the scene on a video screen and I have to say, I’ll take the ever charming – and distinctly live – Stott any day. Unplug Brian, and double Stott’s fee, I say.

I never saw Carlton’s original production, but he’s done a stellar job directing this revival, while shout-outs are also due lighting designer Mark Dymock, costume and set man Rodney Ford, choreographer Fredrick Ruth and the rest of the crew – they may not be flying a spaceship but they certainly know how to make a show fly

This really is a brilliant night out, a take on The Tempest that goes down a storm. I can’t wait to return to the Forbidden Planet.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes with one interval
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Evenings 7.30pm, Saturday matinee, 2.30pm
Tickets and details:

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