Return To The Forbidden Planet
25th Anniversary Tour

Written and created by Bob Charlton

Reviewed at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
26/01/2015

Shakespeare’s forgotten Rock ‘n’ Roll masterpiece – well not quite. The show is the concept of Bob Charlton, but the jukebox is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and does use quotes from his portfolio; some of which you are sure to recognise, especially those familiar with King Lear, Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet.

It beat Miss Saigon and Buddy to the Oliver award for Best New Musical in 1989/1990 and returns for a 25th anniversary tour this year. With numbers including Great Balls of Fire, Teenager in Love and Good Vibrations, among many more, it showcases some of the greatest numbers from the Rock ‘n’ Roll era.

Ariel in Return to the Forbidden Planet. Photo Credit Nobby Clark (2)

Joseph Mann as Ariel

All the performers play instruments live, sometimes a number and range of instruments, whilst singing. On top of this they at times perform slow motion movement sequences: so a load is demanded of them and they cope amicably.

Sean Needham portrays misogynistic, slightly dim, pipe-smoking Captain Tempest with a sharp focus and clarity. Christine Holman as Science Officer and Sarah Scowen as Miranda both show what powerful vocals they can produce. Holman’s Go Now is the most moving performance of the evening and Scowen shows what she can do vocally with her rendition of Hey, Mr Spaceman. Joseph Mann gives us a quirky, energetic Arial and his Who’s Sorry Now hits the spot perfectly, using the physical nature of the robot to create comedy at the appropriate moments.

The stand out performance is that of Mark Newnham as Cookie. His rendition of She’s Not There is electrifying and he brings a great likeability to the hapless, hopeless romantic. The guitar riffs during the afore-mentioned number seem to get longer and more virtuosic every time this production comes around.

Return To The Forbidden Planet is based on the 1956 film Forbidden Planet, and its borrowings from b-movies work well. The shiny costumes, the use of physical comedy, and of course there are some ‘hammed up’ parts that evoke laughter – although the tentacles look a little too tacky for purpose. And whilst the use of handheld microphones is appropriate for the style of the piece and the music, its over-reliance is an issue during spoken dialogue; the action looks clumsy and pasted on and the rigidity of movement is limiting to the actors.

The set design is rather impressive, if not a little crowded at times with all the instruments and instrumentalists (but this again is largely due to the reliance and position of the handheld microphones). The lighting is particularly clever and gives plenty of depth to the feel of the spaceship. It manages to achieve the look of a set-up rather more expensive and elaborate than it is.

True, it has no deep characters or even gripping storyline; but Return to the Forbidden Planet doesn’t take itself seriously, and is a huge amount of fun because of it.