Return to the Forbidden Planet (UK Tour)
New Wimbledon Theatre
Reviewed on Monday 23rd March 2015
Twenty-five years ago, when Return to the Forbidden Planet first appeared on the scene, I'd never even heard of Shakespeare. In fact I hadn't even started school. A quarter of a century on and I am a huge fan of the bard, having watched and/or been in almost all of his plays. The Tempest, which this production is loosely based on, remains one of my favourites - and not just because I played Miranda a few years ago but because of its dreamlike, surreal quality and its poetic words.
Return to the Forbidden Planet can definitely be described as surreal, but that is where the comparison with Shakespeare's final play stops.
Bob Carlton's show would make our beloved bard turn in his grave - the plot is weak, the musical numbers so tenuously slotted in (during an asteroid attack, they sing Great Balls of Fire) that it makes Rock of Ages look like a work of genius. As for the production itself, the budget was clearly spent on hair dryers, rather than scenery and sound equipment.
The cast are stuck in a spaceship for the entire show and forced to use handheld microphones that swap hands constantly and - despite the attempts to work this into the choreography - significantly detract from the piece.
And the least said about the alien the better.
The script, or lack thereof, chops and changes lines from Shakespeare's finest works for no apparent reason. Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and even Hamlet are crucified: "Two beeps, or not two beeps? That is the question." And the story itself leaves a lot to be desired.
The cast are incredibly talented musicians but their acting ability doesn't measure up. With such a show as this, stronger actors might have given the show a lift... although even Bryan May's cameo didn't help it along. At times, it was difficult to hear the cast - they either mumbled or perhaps there were major sound issues.
Mark Newnham is a surprise star as Cookie, owning the stage with his guitar and wowing the audience with his voice. Sarah Scowen is a sweet Miranda, but it's far more impressive when we watch her skip upstage to beat out some epic rhythms on the drums.
Jonathan Markwood is well cast as Dr Prospero, akin to Dr Frankenstein with a crazy look in his eye, nice voice and stage presence, but unfortunately the cast don't gel well together and there is no believable chemistry - in fact interactions come across as quite awkward.
Trying to modernise Shakespeare has always been a good idea, and there are some fantastic productions, but it's tricky to pull off. Despite the good (albeit random) variety of songs in this show - Good Vibrations, All Shook Up, Monster Match etc. - it just doesn't work and I’m not quite sure how it won the Olivier Award for Best Musical.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Return to the Forbidden Planet runs at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 28th March and tour the UK until 9th May 2015. Please visit www.forbiddenplanetreturns.com for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit: Nobby Clark