BLAST OFF INTO THE PAST…
Repolarize the rockanthemizer! Shakespearianize the iamb-ometer, fasten your retrocamp ironido-nebulized harness and prepare to be utterly weightless! Twenty-five years after its 1983 launch in a tent ,and its subsquent West End Olivier glory, Bob Carlton’s jukebox lark sets off on an anniversary tour.
And yes, it feels a bit clunky these days, but the sci-fi rocketship set (designed by Rodney Ford ) is a feast for the eyes of us old Trekkies, and the music is still glorious: belting 1954-68 numbers. They’re delivered by a musically adept cast, notably manic Mark Newnham belting hell out of his Stratocaster as Cookie the lovelorn galley hand, and Sarah Scowen as a fabulous Miranda yowling out “Why must I be a teenager in love ?” with all the blissful sincerity of the pre-Madonna age.
Yes, Miranda. For newcomers, this is how it works. Carlton- seeking a show for musician-actors, a novelty in those days – decided that nothing could be more natural than to mix up a ‘50s space B-movie and all his favourite rock’n roll anthems with Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A vengeful Prospero exiled to a distant planet wrecks a spaceship with an asteroid storm (Great Balls of Fire, of course at this point). Ariel is a robot – Joseph Mann jerking amiably about in cuirasses and tin knickers, until an outbreak of nimbleness has him breaking into a soft-shoe shuffle). And the romantic hero – back we go to the ‘50s – is a stiff upper lipped, pipesmoking Sean Needham.
What makes it intriguing for grownups – and potentially a nice early taste of blank verse for the kids – is the pick ’n mix of real Shakespeare from at least a dozen plays (Prospero becomes Lear for a few lines, with a touch of Caesar, Cookie shifts wildly between Richard III, Macbeth, Romeo, Malvolio and points west)). Add in some cod-Bard lines to keep the rather shaky plot going, allow yourself awful space jokes like “Two beeps? Or not two beeps?” , reference Freudian theory in order to “Beware the Ids of March”, and keep sliding suddenly into glorious numbers like “Don’t let me be Misunderstood” , “Good Vibrations” or “Only the Lonely”. And there you are. Rockin’ erratically through space and time, for fun.
As I say, in all honesty it does clunk a bit. Carlton still directs, and it might have been jerked forward a bit under someone else. But there is real glee in it, a lovely barking-mad evocation by Jonathan Markwood as Prospero in Rupert Bear trousers and a frock-coat and – not least – some very fine movement direction and choreography by Frido Ruth, a veteran of the show. The initial weightless sequence is quite brilliant: rolling, lifting, drifting, the cast make you think for a moment that they really are in space, guitars and all .
And, after all, we now know what that looks like, now that Chris Hadfield has done Space Oddity while floating around up there. Space, and music, and theatre, have moved on greatly in 25 years. But it’s worth a whoop. I am a bit shocked that Brighton didn’t dance in the aisles, but there will be other opportunities…
Brighton Box office 0844 871 7650 to 24th, BUT
TOURING to 9 May. – details http://www.forbiddenplanetreturns.com
( Birmingham next!)