Brighton Fringe 2019
Bob Carlton’s Return to the Forbidden Planet is directed and choreographed by Mimi Goddard, who also operates sound and lighting; with more choreography from Rebecca Polling and the cast, with musical direction and remix by Ella Turk-Thompson. Set by Steven Adams and Tom Williams, and lighting design by Beverley Grover. Till May 18th.
Every year it seems Steven Adams and his team conspire to make BLT productions even more spectacular. Forget space-time, the BLT’s a Tardis where the set defies the dimensions it’s slotted into.
Indeed a homeopathic sliver of that Dr Who theme does cheekily flicker into this production of Bob Carlton’s West-End hit Return to the Forbidden Planet, directed and choreographed by Mimi Goddard, with more choreography from Rebecca Polling and the cast, with musical direction and remix by Ella Turk-Thompson.
Not to mention Rob Punter – the Prospero here – who looks strikingly like Tom Baker in Dr Who mode. Oh yes and it’s a rock and pop musical, ranging to about 1964, but watch out for the last number 1970’s ‘Monster Mash’. The song-sequence is neatly – sometimes jaw-droppingly – tailored into the sci-fi narrative.
The Tempest which inspires this musical via the 1956 sci-fi film, inspires other shows this year – notably Emily Carding’s duo, Caliban’s Codex and Quintessence. Each has about 55% Shakespeare. This show probably gets 70% in the most ingenious intercutting through Shakespeare plays that’s ever been attempted – and subverted. It was inspired of Carlton to extract a musical from a film inspired by The Tempest then return it to Shakespeare. It allows a fantastic playing-off against genre.
Ariel ‘my industrious friend’ becomes with Ariel the android ‘my industrial friend’ and onboard ship ‘two bleeps or not two bleeps’ is the kind of quip that flashes past. Appositely mined – and undermined – quotes from Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Henry V, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale, The Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar (repeatedly), Romeo and Juliet ditto and of course The Tempest embed themselves – so you’ll never quite think of them in the right order again.
The first thing that strikes you is the depth of the set by Steven Adams and Tom Williams, and lighting design by Beverley Grover. The silver machine is a miracle of rare device, even for the BLT. Fully automated, even shutting space-lock doors with blasts of dry ice, this winking set is essentially silver, with panes constructed with black and red flecks, which extend into the lift area stage left (a door stage right’s used too). The electrical appliances surpass even those of The Effect from last year.
Central is a captain’s moveable seat, a bit like a dodgem. Left and right of the set rows of keyboards and seats feature lava lamps in pink or turquoise, working screens and flashing lights. Another row of these stretches above like a pros-arch and vertical lighting between those panels goes all colours of the spectrum. Stage left a larger circular monitor looks like a space port with stars winking about.
But backstage right we’ve a huge 50” monitor where Gerry Wickes newsreader broadcasts feed for the story intercut with looming monsters and other disjecta from outer space. Mimi Goddard also operates sound and lighting and she has work cut out often in red alert. Oh and the audience too are expected to join in with full polarity reversal. You’ll find out.
We explode into alpha-space position as four navigation officers – Tina Sitko, Chloe McEwan, Sofia Furtado, Nadya Mills – make light of the tight choreography that virtually never flags and in their red suits provide the backing vocals too that tends to get overlooked. The women in this production are in consistently good voice.
Adams as Chief Engineer, Jack West as slightly more prominent Bosun and Stephen Evans as Derek First Mate in corresponding black suits gyrate around the first numbers: ‘Wipe Out’, and as Chief Science Officer Gloria, Mandy-Jane Jackson’s first great solo ‘It’s a Man’s, Man’s Man’s World’ in response to Leigh Ward’s Captain Tempest rather hissy put-downs and gender bias. Tempest delivers some bits of The Taming of the Shrew but more, ‘such women are dangerous’ repeatedly as Caesar from Julius Caesar, Tempest’s go-to touch of misogyny. Ward relishes his slightly less than squeaky-clean heroics, both clean-cut and talking rusty.
From this point it’s clear that Jackson’s Gloria is the outstanding singer. Next to her in quality are Claudia Fielding’s winningly preppy Miranda and with some exceptional physical acting (all robotic jerks and silly walks) Millie Edinburgh’s Ariel: both of whom appear shortly. Edinburgh in contrast produces a neatly gamine soprano routine. The exceptional male vocalist is Patrick Palmer, whose hapless Cookie displays all sorts of calf-love for Miranda (and all those R&J moments) when she turns up: but she fancies someone else.
The film-plot’s hi-jacked a little: we don’t leave the flight deck, thankfully. A routine-mission spacecraft is trapped by planetary energy (‘Great Balls of Fire’), drawn to the uncharted D’Illyria where Dr Prospero who ‘went over’ to ‘the other side’ (who? we never quite find out) welcomes them along with his daughter Miranda. Punter‘s winningly fruity, great fun and by the end in rather good voice too. He disarms their hostility in ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Meanwhile Gloria has gone AWOL in a small spacecraft.
We get ‘Good Vibrations’ ‘Yeh Yeh’ (basically Cookie instructed to go get Miranda) and Cookie’s first solo ‘Ain’t Gonna Wash For a Week’ and then we get ‘I’m Gonna Change The World’ Miranda’s ‘Teenager’ and then the creepy captain solo (Ward in Brosman voice with a good baritonal reach) ‘Young Girl’ the sort of thing we don’t really let on our airwaves these days. It really is ‘way out of line’ now but here works cheerfully enough.
Palmer gets one of the very best the Zombies’ stunning ‘She’s Not There’ and here along with Jackson, Fielding and Edinburgh superb diction too. Even those who singing range is more limited really deliver the words beautifully, and that goes for the cut-and-paste Shakespeare too, deliciously flickering in and out of space-warped imaginations. ‘Shakin All Over introduces us to the Id, the sort of monster mash elixir Prospero takes and tendrils reach out of the ports, we suddenly get ‘Gloria’ as the eponymous heroine/anti-heroine returns whooshing through the doors; and an interval.
This landing packs a secret for Jackson’s Gloria. She and Prospero have previous and there’s some living proof of that. So 5-4-3-2-1 Gloria and some more teenager stuff as Gloria and Cookie plot the overthrow of Prospero and Miranda sings ‘Who’s sorry Now’ and Cookie ‘Tell Her/Gimme Some Lovin’. Miranda’s attempts to scrub up in ‘War Paint’ and a consciously sexier more adult mode go awry and she dreams of ‘Robot Man’. Ariel’s self-sacrifice drinking more elixir seems temporary in ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’. It’s all because Gloria realizes Prospero’s great consciousness expander is so dangerous, releasing violence and Id destructiveness. So finally Prospero in a reconciliatory duet Gloria’s ’Go Now’ is really the highlight as Prospero leaves to implode and his planet with him. ‘Beware the Ids of March….’
There’s a kind of end-title sequence ‘Only the Lonely’ (Cookie again) ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Born to Be Wild’ which gloriously have nothing at all to do with the plot, though ‘Mr Spaceman’ rounds out everything except… well of course that Mash.
It’s clear this is in nearly all respects an outstanding production. Sets, costumes and choreography, much of the singing and all the chorus, diction and deliciously funny facials with acting from all the cast. Edinburgh’s physical jerks in particular are commendable. Bar Palmer and Punter the men aren’t really singers – Punter nails his songs with comic panache. But their vocal parts are less prominent, and all act well.
Jackson particularly, Fielding, Edinburgh and Palmer are both thrilling – and moving as well as funny. It’s a must-see. Sold out already, there’s always a chink and I’d say seek it out. Whatever warp factors you have to go through.