Voyage to the Prohibited Planet
Thursday 10th November 2011; Theatre In The Mill
Engine Oil. he Tiger, The Wizard and the Closet. Cold Mikado. Alternative titles to musicals that there could be, but it was ‘Voyage to the Prohibited Planet’ that BUSOM – Bradford University Society of Operettas and Musicals - chose as the title of their latest production, a scratch based on the 1980s musical ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’ which, itself, is based on the 1950s movie ‘Forbidden Planet’ which, just to add another layer of confusion, is based on Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’.
(Though I’m pretty sure there are no aliens with boppers on their heads, robots or 12-foot space creatures in Shakespeare’s play, but please let me know if I’m wrong).
The musical tells the story of a surveying crew of space pilots who, under the command of Captain Tempest, enter a meteor storm and have to land on the planet D’illyria, where they meet Doctor Prospero, a mad scientist, and his daughter and robot, attracted by his promise to fix their ship. Through their encounters on the planet they learn about Doctor Prospero’s mysterious mind-altering ‘X Factor’ formulation and how the science officer is actually his long-lost wife, plus fight against a 12-foot monster that enters through the airlock.
Throughout the dialogue the musical is peppered with 1950s and 1960s rock ‘n’ roll tunes.
So, with a nice pint of real cider in hand, I wandered up into the theatre to witness the BUSOM production, their first since their recent 24-hour show production of ‘Fame’. And whereas that performance was peppered with forgotten lines, missed cues and improvisation – run of the mill when you consider the nature of how long they had to learn the piece and no reflection on how much fun it was to watch – this was a much slicker affair with minimal set – it amounted to nothing more than a dozen chairs, some music stands and a black curtain – but a lot of fun to be had and some impressive sound and lighting effects scattered through it.
The opening of the musical was possible the most unusual that I’d been to with the cast encouraging everyone to put their hands on their head and make raspberry sounds in the style of an aeroplane safety briefing. Nothing like breaking the ice there. And for those of you wondering why, it would be explained later.
It was then onto the main production with James Howe taking the lead role of Captain Tempest, possessing possible the biggest, if you mind the pun, visual joke of the evening, wearing a metallic badge on his jumper that looked like a, er, rocket with two large exhaust bits. If you’ve seen the second Austin Powers film you’ll know what I’m getting at. If you haven’t then you are in possession of a clean mind and I salute you!
His costume was one of a handful of remarkable tops, from the three ‘aliens’ covered in green body paint and boppers to Stuart’s remarkably genuine looking Star Trek top. If I didn’t know better I’d say he had it already in his wardrobe when the musical was planned, but that’s only a guess. But I’m right.
As Captain Tempest James was a well-chosen lead, with a good sense of humour in his acting and a good voice to carry off the tracks, even if he did have to rely on a folder for some lines and music, a technique carried over from the 24-hour show and used by a lot of the cast during the piece, which I wasn’t expecting as they usually are good at being script-less.
His duet on the classic ‘It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World’ with Anna Garlick as science officer Gloria was both funny and well executed and Anna’s performance throughout the show was a highlight, proving to be an exceptional character actor and very funny visually, whilst also being able to carry off the songs.
It was after this song that the effort put into the effects in the production showed off, with great used of strobe and sound effects to really simulate a ship in distress, and it was always inevitable when casting Daniel Ratcliffe and Stuart Sellens as redshirts, that they’d both get killed throughout the course of the play, with Daniel being the first of several victims to the monster.
As the musical continued on there was one thing that annoyed me about it, and that’s more down to the nature of the musical and the truncated form, rather than BUSOM’S performance of it, but it reminded by of the musical ‘We Will Rock You’ which I had the mixed-pleasure of seeing a while ago, where songs are set-up awkwardly in the script with lines such as ‘We’re going to crash. Great balls of fire!’ being the Forbidden Planet equivalent of ‘To get there, we have to cross the Seven Seas of Rhye – queue song!’. But that’s a bugbear of my own and more, as I say, down to the nature of the play.
This did at least have the improvement over the Queen musical in having a backing chorus of aliens and no bastardised lyrics of ‘Radio Ga Ga’, though some of the songs were tweaked here and there to fit in with the plot.
We now got to the point of the ship crashing on the planet, with Dave Jennings as Prospero once more diving into the deliciously evil role with gusto, managing to keep his performance just on the right side of hamming it up but also being one of the strongest male singers of the evening. Naomi Fowler got to play robot Ariel 5000 – which sounds to me like a really powerful detergent or a futuristic Little Mermaid, but I digress – being intentionally very robotic in her performance and being happy to stand on stage with painted card strapped in front of her and a Chinese take-away container on her head.
(We’ve all been there of course, just not necessarily in front of an audience, just at home after FND).
Rachel Mitchell played Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, reprising her smitten-teenager role from the 24-hour show and being even better at it, being possibly the most enthusiastic and believable character on the stage. I hope to see more of her in future productions as she has really excelled in her two appearances so far.
It was also at this point that Joel Blakemore, the ship’s Shakespeare-spouting chef ‘Cookie’, came into his own, once more proving he’s worth being cast with another hilarious portrayal of a down-on-his-luck character, thoroughly geeking it up with his performance, use of Sonic Screwdriver, and ability to collapse on stage.
The chorus of ‘Good Vibrations’ was well done and timed well and Joel’s solo of ‘I’m Not Going To Wash For A Week’, backed by the alien chorus of Lyndsey Niven, Emelie Ollila and Poppy Brooks, was a joy to listen to, Joel doing an excellent job in an area he has struggled at times before.
The show was also punctuated by some excellent background acting from the cast, reacting to other characters and songs such as during ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, a very good performance by Lyndsey, Emilie and Poppy, whose vocals were thankfully not as blotchy as their green make-up.
Having Bill Harding on piano – doing a stirling job on tracks of mixed tempos – really benefited this production over the PA songs of the 24-hour show, not drowning out the singing of the solos.
Rachel Mitchell was back up next, performing a fantastic version of ‘Teenager In Love’, again cementing herself as an asset to the group, the track beautifully sung and acted with passion, though perhaps needing a little bit more volume against the piano.
Joel and Rachel continued to put in great performances, alongside James as the vain Captain, James pulling off his personality well through creative use of props and his hair, which itself almost deserves a credit for its performance, who shone in his version of ‘Young Girl’, even if his moving back and forth across the stage was a little monotonous. Rachel, however, added to the track by some cracking acting as the song continued, clearly getting sadder as she realised her feelings for the captain were not reciprocated.
Next was the welcome return of Anna as Gloria the scientist, dragged back on stage for some more comic acting before we were treated to another enthusiastic and dramatic performance by Dave Jennings, with a catchy adapted version of the Elvis classic ‘All Shook Up’.
But, as the monster burst through the air lock once more, we got a freeze frame from the cast and a funny dramatic summing up from Sara Pietrzik as the narrator, before the interval arrived. Though, even after most of the cast left the stage in the blackout, Dave remained in character on the floor, but luckily he did break out whilst we were downstairs so he didn’t have to lie down for twenty minutes.
After a quick blast of fresh air it was back into the theatre for the second part with the cast back in their freeze frame positions, and some well-timed sound effects as Stuart shot the creature but ultimately met his maker. A green light was used to simulated Gloria’s imprisonment in jail and the second Elvis track of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ re-inforced it, a well performed by the cast, especially considering the tricky dance moves which, for the most part, were performed successfully. The song also got the audience happily clapping along.
The performance of the ‘Shoop, Shoop Song’ that followed by the aliens was almost perfect compared to the original and Rachel continued to shine as Miranda, now in a weird wig, and treating us to track ‘Robot Man’ and excelling at it. Plus, it was a good excuse for the cast to burst into doing an adaptation of the Macarena behind her, which Stuart knew he couldn’t miss out on, returning to the stage back from the head but now with a Red Dwarf-inspired hologram H on his forehead.
The plot of the musical continued with a nod to the X Factor reality show – in this case the X Factor formula seemingly kills the robot rather than releasing eight years of tosh into the charts – and the destruction of the monster, before the audience are encouraged to help ‘reverse the polarity flow’ (you know what, I don’t think that’s real science) by repeating the movements from the very early introduction, much to the embarrassment, I might add, of me and my friends!
It turned out in the plot that the X Factor has made Ariel 5000 human, allowing Naomi Fowler to emerge from the restrictions of playing a robot and putting in some great, hilarious acting contributions to the end, bouncing well off Joel as an interesting pair.
At this point it’s also worth noting some other great performances on the night. Sara Pietrzik as the narrator only had a few solo lines other than chorus work but delivered them with comic relish; Joseph Page as a member of the crew was possibly the most enthusiastic member of the crew, especially during ‘Born To Be Wild’ where, between him and David Collinson, the lyrics were brought to life in funny fashion from every wild arm gesture and on-stage hug; plus ‘Andrzej Frelek’ who bounced off the other people on stage in a good role.
Jon Carter and Nartani Nithianandasivam were also integral parts of the cast as well, but I would have liked to have seen more from them.
With the musical coming to a close there was just time for Dave Jennings to deliver a cracking version of the ‘Monster Mash’ before the cast launched into a spirited version of ‘I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper’.
Overall it was another excellent production from BUSOM, with standout performances from Anna Garlick, Rachel Mitchell, Dave Jennings, and Joel Blakemore; four fine comic and well-acted performances, complimented by great turns from James Howe, Naomi Fowler and the rest of the cast, and powerful singing from the trio of aliens.
If there was one criticism I would have is that the performance only came to about fifty-five minutes sans interval and was I hoping for a longer show, but what we did got was well acted, funny and full of great, singable songs, delivered well by an enthusiastic cast, complimented by some excellent piano, sound effects and lighting tricks.
With maybe fewer obvious scripts to rely on and a bit more material it would have been a practically flawless production but, as always, going to see a performance by BUSOM is not a disappointment, and I look forward once more to their next production, ‘Around The World In 80 Minutes’, just in time for Christmas.
[7.5 / 10]
Captain Tempest – James Howe
Gloria – Anna Garlick
Miranda – Rachel Mitchell
Prospero – Dave Jennings
Ariel 5000 – Naomi Fowler
Cookie – Joel Blakemore
Boson – Andrzej Frelek
Steward – Emily Bennett
Narrator – Sara Pietrzik
Crewman – Joseph Page
Aliens – Poppy Brooks, Lyndsey Niven, Emelie Ollila
Redshirts – Daniel Ratcliffe, Stuart Sellens
Chorus – Jon Carter, David Collinson, Nartani Nithianandasivam
Directors – Christine Brighouse-Johnson, Bill Harding, Zoe Howe
Piano Man – Bill Harding
Crew – Mike Bedford, Nicki Bedford, Kate Concannon