The Theatre Royal, Brighton fired off its own Big Bang this week with a cosmic production of Return to the Forbidden Planet.
A constellation of stellar talent launched this combination of Shakespearean language, science fiction and rock n’ roll into the South Coast stratosphere.
The audience lapped it up at every level – blank verse from Elizabethan plays satisfying any scraps of intellect we had left after the sensual assault of live music, pyrotechnics, audience participation and a beeping, neon, fluorescent set.
‘Return’ was the first West End show created for a cast of actor-musicians.
Director and originator Bob Carlton was inspired by sci-fi B-movie Forbidden Planet, loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the show previewed under canvas in 1983, moving to the Tricycle Theatre before launching at the Cambridge Theatre, London in 1989.
It went on to run for four years in the West End, beating Miss Saigon and Buddy to an Olivier Award for Best Musical.
Bob Carlton said: “I wrote this in the 80s and set it in the 50s – and people seem to have liked it each time it’s staged.”
Like it is an understatement.
The audience whooped, cheered, waved, performed all the actions to ‘reverse polarity,’ and screamed for curtain call after curtain call.
If you manage to make the trip to Brighton, make sure you join in the screaming because you get a superb extra rendition of Johnny B Goode.
My companion had seen various productions about four times but said this was the best yet.
It was my second – but light years ahead of that Crawley performance which would have been back in the 1990s.
What struck us both was the formidable battery of musical talent displayed by every performer.
What does it take to get into drama school these days?
A good stage presence certainly; a strong singing voice naturally; competence with a musical instrument….several musical instruments maybe?
I felt each of these young performers could have cleaned up in The Voice or X-Factor.
And they will go on delivering 110 per cent night after night as the musical goes on tour.
Hits piled on hits: Great Balls of Fire; Good Vibrations; All Shook Up; She’s Not There; Shake, Rattle and Roll; Born to be Wild – aahhh, the soundtracks of our youth,(probably your parents’ youth).
Standing out a mile for me was young Mark Newnham (looking about 14) as Cookie, whose splendiferous guitar riffs belie his programme description: “Too short to train at NASA – read comet books, favoured the Mars Bar, recreated constellations with dried pasta.”
His personality ignited the stage, as did Jonathan Markwood’s imposing Dr Prospero, Sarah Scowen’s Miranda and Christine Holman’s Science Officer.
The story is just too daft to describe.
Let’s just say there’s a journey to a planet, Tyrannosaurus-style green monster with dangling tentacles, strobe-lit air-lock and exploding star.
Oh and by the way, Queen founding member Brian May CBE recorded a witty, filmed commentary just in case any of us lost the plot.
“Go Now” as the cast would advise.