Energetic, lively and fun, there’s no musical quite like Return To The Forbidden Planet.
Celebrating its silver anniversary, the space age show fuses rock ‘n’ roll favourites with Shakespeare and sci-fi. The Sainsbury Singers have this week been performing their take on one of the greatest love stories ever told with space monsters.
Leighton Park Theatre has been successfully turned into the boarding gate for the USS Albatross, a spaceship headed up by Captain Tempest (Matt Smith) and his crew.
In the fast-paced show, a meteoroid storm propels the ship to the mysterious planet D’Illyria, home to a mad scientist Dr Prospero (Brian Bretney), his daughter Miranda (Jackie Stoffels) and robot Ariel (Gareth Wells).
Miranda falls in love with the Captain, much to the disgust of the ship’s cook Cookie (Chris Thomas). Weaving a web among them all is mysterious science officer Gloria (Louise Quelch).
Dr Prospero has devised a mind-expanding drug, the X Factor and can’t wait to get back to Earth to show it off. The only thing stopping him is a tentacled space monster… and his ex-wife.
The leads are excellent and each gets their chance to shine in the spotlight. Jackie Stoffels excels as Miranda, deftly switching from doe-eyed teenager to heartbroken in seconds as the love story unfolds. She was excellent in her big numbers, which included Why Must I Be A Teenager In Love? and Hey Mr Spaceman.
Louise Quelch gives a feisty turn as the science officer, putting a lot of energy and power into her performance. She was incredibly moving as she sang Go Now.
Dr Prospero is a gift of a role: where else can you play a mad scientist who drinks a foul potion? There’s little demand for Hammer Horror musicals, so it was a joy to see Brian Bretney not hold back. His Prospero was both noble and nutty and he was clearly enjoying himself, especially in Monster Mash.
Matt Smith’s Captain was the atypical square jawed hero – he wasn’t even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes when Dan Dare first took on the Mekon, but here was the clean-cut Captain that we look up to. He was superb singing Young Girl and The Young Ones.
Chris Thomas as Cookie had a hard task: as the snubbed teenager in love, he had to both be fun and nasty. He too was enjoying himself on stage, evident during the surprise guitar solo in She’s Not There.
Boson Arus, the final member of the ship’s crew, was played by Laurent Petithugeuenin, shining in his shared songs, including Great Balls of Fire and Yeh Yeh.
An utterly sublime performance was given by Gareth Wells as Ariel. Wrapped in a figure-hugging costume, face painted silver and adopting a stiff robotic walk, he managed, almost without blinking, to light up the stage. His powerful voice ensured that songs such as Who’s Sorry Now stuck in the mind. A very assured performance and he deserves much praise.
For the rest of the crew, Return To The Forbidden Planet is a hard musical: there is no escape through the airlock, they are on stage for the entire duration so they have to constantly sing, act and dance. Thankfully, everyone did, adding colour and life to even the quiet moments.
An ingenious multi-level set echoes the look of Star Trek while managing to give the large cast all the space they need to sing and dance through the show. A large screen in the background helps complete the illusion that you’re on a spaceship, while also helping move the plot along.
One big change for this production is the role of the narrator: the Sky at Night star, the late Patrick Moore, was the original and since then most groups have gone for a similar look: eccentric old man, verging on Winston Churchill impersonation. The Sainsbury Singers have gone against type, bringing in youthful Kazia Grant as a female newscaster. It’s a change that works incredibly well and she handles the comedy with aplomb.
Some niggles with the sound on the first night meant that some moments were lost as microphonres were too quiet or gave feedback. Similarly, some jokes – such as the two beeps gag – were thrown away rather than savoured so the audience missed them.
Some dance steps felt a little overlaboured; the jazz hands from the whole cast at the end of Who’s Sorry Now and the over complex dance steps for Yeh Yeh were unnecessary distractions. The stage direction for Gloria meant that the Albatross crew were blocking the audience’s view, making it hard to see the space monster’s attack.
But this is being churlish: the choreography to Monster Mash was fantastic and throughout the show the cast clearly were having a ball – a great ball of fire. Applause from the audience was frequent, sustained and richly deserved.
The Albatross band, headed up by Jon Brooks from the Ding Dong Daddios, was superb, moving effortlessly from song to song, while the stage lighting was suitably atmospheric and well handled.
As the Albatross touched down after a successful re-entry, several members of the audience rose to give a well-deserved standing ovation. The Sainsbury Singers have shake, rattle and rolled across Leighton Park Theatre and should be very proud of the show they have put together; I hope they record their own soundtrack album as the songs linger majestically in your head for days after.
The show continues until Saturday, November 1. Go now.
Performances have nearly sold out, but some tickets may be available on the door or from this website.
The Sainsbury Singers’ next show will see them at The Hexagon. Sweet Charity will be performed from May 13-16 and includes numbers such as Hey Big Spender and The Rhythm of Life.
For more details, log on to its website.