"The Return To The Forbidden Planet” premiered at the Cambridge Theatre in 1989, where it enjoyed phenomenal success. The show subsequently won the 1990 Olivier Award for Best Musical, beating “Miss Saigon”. This brand new production of the cult classic rock 'n' roll extravaganza has returned to the West End for a six week run, but I found it a hit and miss affair with some of the songs sounding amateurish.
The show is a loose combination of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and the 1957 Oscar-nominated film “The Forbidden Planet”. The story concerns Captain Tempest and his crew who while travelling in space are forcibly drawn to a planet by the scientist Doctor Prospero, who was exiled in space by his wife. The science officer, believing the ship is about to be destroyed, steals the only shuttlecraft to make her escape.
When they arrive on the planet, Prospero explains that his wicked wife Gloria has exiled him. A crime most wicked by the fact that the Doctor had just discovered the ‘X’ formula, a mind-bending drug that allows objects to be created just by the power of thought alone. With such a drug humankind could finally conquer sickness, starvation and warfare. Meanwhile the Doctor’s daughter Miranda falls in love with the Captain at first sight, but the ship’s young cook, Cookie becomes jealous. The science officer is caught by Prospero’s robot and returned to the ship only to be revealed as Gloria, Prospero's spiteful wife.
A giant monster then attacks the ship. But what is the connection between the monster and Doctor Prospero? Is wicked Gloria the villain that she seems? Will she succeed in using Cookie’s jealousy to help her capture the formula? A couple of clues for those who do not know the plot to this comedy comes when Gloria says “Beware the Ids that march” and Prospero cries out in despair “The beast outside the door is myself”.
Written and directed by Bob Carlton, this show is primarily a vehicle to perform a host of great rock 'n' roll numbers from the 50s and 60s including “Great Balls of Fire”, “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “Good Vibrations”, “All Shook Up”, “She's Not There”, “Teenager in Love” and “Monster Mash “. Therefore, it is important that these songs are performed well. Unfortunately, many were not! You could not hear many of the singers over the music and when you could some songs were sang flat. However, as the show progressed the singing did improve and in the end you become so enwrapped in the euphoria of the show that you don’t much care about the quality as you are by now drawn into the ambience and are singing along with the band.
It is a pulsating show with some nutty characters, like roller-skating Robot Airiel splendidly played by Fredrick Ruth, and Diana Croft, as Gloria who makes a wicked Science Officer. Adrian Cobey has perfect teeth for Captain Tempest’s beaming smile, and James Earl Adair is convincing as Dr Prospero. However, it is Philip Reed as Cookie who dominates with his cheeky face. He produces an energetic performance as he sings and runs around the stage and he is particularly outstanding on the electric guitar.
The show has received favourable notices from the popular press… RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “This is a a show for partygoers who want to indulge in the rock'n' roll music of the spheres. Here, the playing is the thing, and the script a cheesy accomplice.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, loved it saying, “This revival……turns out to be even more fun than it was first time around.” He goes on to say, “Rockin' entertainment for the festive season.” LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN describes the show as ”an enjoyable foot-tapping romp”. She goes on to say, “The multi-skilled cast works its socks off to ensure that the audience has a good time, and provided you succumb to the silliness, you will enjoy yourself.” MADDY COSTA for TIME OUT says, "Any production that employs hairdryers as weapons has a certain infectious charm." TONY COOKE for THE STAGE says, "Though it might be easy to dismiss the plot as merely the glue to join up an armful of classic fifties songs, the inventive use of the source materials is impressive, with a great mix of both slapstick and more intelligent humour."
This show is perfect for the festive season if you want to let your hair down and have some mindless fun.
It is not a polished production and it is slow to get going but by the time the show ends after 2 hours and 45 minutes you will be singing and clapping with the rest!
Links to full reviews from newspapers...