REVIEW: Shakespeare goes sci-fi in cosmic classic

Duchess's High School pupils perform Return To The Forbidden Planet at Alnwick Playhouse.

Duchess's High School pupils perform Return To The Forbidden Planet at Alnwick Playhouse.


Return to the Forbidden Planet – Duchess’s Community High School, Alnwick


Seatbelts fastened and random safety instructions followed, it was time for lift-off and the start of a shaking, rattling, rolling journey through space, time and culture.

The inflight entertainment was provided by the youngsters of Duchess’s Community High School and yet again, they did their teachers, families and community proud – the standing ovation at the end of the first performance last night was testimony to that.

Inevitably, Return to the Forbidden Planet will be compared to the last two phenomenally successful musicals, Grease and Back to the ‘80s, performed by the school.

In one sense, the comparison was unfair. This production placed far heavier demands on the youngsters’ acting abilities, yet stood up to scrutiny.

It was basically a Shakespeare play, The Tempest, blasted into space and merged with the film Forbidden Planet, which has its roots in the 1950s B-movie genre. The soliloquies are long and challenging, the emotions raw and the plot a complex tangle of relationships - typically Shakespeare.

But add to the mix some sci-fi kitsch, outrageous caricatures and a string of hits from the late ’50s and ’60s and the picture is almost complete.

It was also a bit of a Shakespeare mash-up, borrowing lines from across the Bard’s spectrum of work: ‘Shall I compare her to a Barbie doll?’ ‘To beep or not to beep, that is the question’, ‘Prospero, Prospero, wherefore art thou Prospero?’ ‘What light through Bosun’s window breaks?’

So to the plot – it goes something like this – set on board the scientific spacecraft Albatross, with the charismatic Captain Tempest, played with oodles of confidence by a cool Kieran Renner, and his hotch-potch crew.

Ably assisted by his Russian first officer Bosun Arras, brought vividly to life by the outrageously talented Tyler Angus, the ship’s cook Cookie, played by another star in the making Harry Brierley, and his two-faced science officer Gloria (the strong voice of Jessica Field was one of the show’s highlights), they set off on a routine survey flight.

They stumble upon the mysterious planet D’Lyrria and are forced to land by a strange tractor beam. The crew learns that D’Lyrria is home to the long-lost, mad Dr Prospero (cue a wonderfully wacky performance by another huge talent in Jordan Shiel), one-time genius of the space federation, his beautiful daughter Miranda (young Cerys Williams gave an assured portrayal that belied her age) and their rather excitable robots, Ariel and R2Dont2, played by the excellent, dependable Amy Barrett and Kirsty Hensleigh.

The ensuing adventure involved an attack a frightening monster and a mind-bending potion called, appropriately, X Factor and developed by crazy Prospero.

Special mention, too, for navigation officer Hannah Lamb, who steered our vessel safely with a fevered excitement and amazing singing voice. And the newscasters Matthew Potts, Fynn Riseborough, Daniel Thomassen, Leonie Douglas, Alice Hall Thomas and Lindsay Manion added continuity, clarity and humour.

There was so much going on all over the stage in a vibrant, hi-tech set, with little scenes being acted out everywhere. At times, you had to pinch yourself to remind you this was a school production.

While the acting and dancing were impressive, it was the singing that shone throughout. Such classics as Great Balls of Fire, Good Vibrations, Teenager in Love, The Young Ones, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Go Now, She’s Not There and Young Girl.

Their renditions of rock ’n’ roll standards Shake, Rattle ’n’ Roll and Shakin’ All Over sent quivers down your backbone. A rip-roaring finale, including The Monster Mash, pushed the audience into raptures, culminating in that standing ovation.

The addition of a nine-piece band, all from the school, gave the whole show a West-End authenticity, the musicianship being superb, particularly from drummer Harry Summers.

The musical could be viewed on so many different levels. Aficionados might have winced at the treatment of one of our national treasures, the Bard himself, or they may have laughed aloud at the double entendres, while music lovers could have simply enjoyed the high standard of playing from the band and singing from the cast.

I last saw Forbidden Planet in 2002 at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle. So, to coin a phrase, shall I compare thee to a professional performance? Of course – the Duchess’s show was not a light-year behind.

For me, it was a triumph, another showcase of the incredible talent at the school, everything from set-building to costume-making, lighting to musical prowess, producing to performing. It was fun, without being a side-splitter, and had plenty of audience-engagement. Highlights included Jordan Shiel opening speech, capturing the utter madness of Prospero, and his subsequent number, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; the scene and dance routine to Wipeout, with the musicians taking centre-stage, so to speak; and the tight interaction between the two robots, Amy and Kirsty – priceless! I also thought Jessica Field’s version of Gloria was powerful and emotionally charged.

Credit must also go to the staff who were pivotal to the success the Forbidden Planet. Take a bow, director Martin Allenby, musical director Niamh Callanan and choreographer Jo Burn. As Mr Allenby said in his programme notes, it is pleasing to witness students being given the chance to shine on stage at a time when the pressure to produce top exam results is greater than ever.

While there were many familiar faces in the cast, it was also refreshing to see some newcomers, including Cerys, who is amazingly only in Year 9 and one to watch. The future of high-school productions in Alnwick is bright and in very good hands.

** The show continues tonight until Saturday and performances begin at 7.30pm for the evening shows and at 2pm for a matinee performance on Saturday. Tickets cost £8 for adults, £7 for concessions and £6 for children/students. They are selling well and can be purchased from the Alnwick Playhouse box office, by phone on 01665 510785 or online from the Alnwick Playhouse website.

THE CAST: Captain Tempest – Kieran Renner; Dr Prospero – Jordan Shiel; Cookie – Harry Brierley; Bosun Arras – Tyler Angus; Miranda – Cerys Williams; Gloria – Jessica Field; Navigation Officer – Hannah Lamb; Ariel – Amy Barrett; R2Dont2 – Kirsty Hensleigh; Newscasters – Matthew Potts, Fynn Riseborough, Daniel Thomassen, Leonie Douglas, Alice Hall Thomas, Lindsay Manion; Albatross crew – Joe Bennett, Edwin Barnes, Emily Hardy, Ellie Hamblett, Imogen Mills, Rosie Murton, Fionnuala Horgan, Stacey Turnbull, Caitlin Brown, Nicole Hall, Ella Paul, Courtney Swain, Charlotte Wyld, Siobhan Stobbs, Fraser Wright.

THE BAND: Drums – Harry Summers; guitars – Jack Moody and Daniel Lyst; bass – Tommy Sarosi; keyboards – Anthony Newman and Sarah Walker; trumpet – Nadine Cavener; tenor sax – Sam Murray; alto sax – Elodie Straker.

THE CREW: Director – Martin Allenby; assistant director – Annie Davison; musical director – Niamh Callanan; assistant musical director – Andy Holden; musical technician – Richard Lyst; band advisor – Ron Creasey; choreographer – Jo Burn; costumes – Sarah Denton, Pip Terry; sound and lighting – Tim Swinton, Jason Oakley, Matthew Slack, Matty Smith, Sam Smith, Will Larkin, Dan Phillips; backstage crew – Rosalyn Browell, Molly Murton, Helena Davidson, Callum Wood, Jenny Handley, Romney Gwynn, Cameron Williams, Zara Browell, Jacob Hall, Lucy Embleton, Jessica Moore; make-up – Fern Williamson, Erinn Parry; poster design and photography – Amber Brown; set design and construction – Richard Hay, John Wilson, Andy Hunt, Simon Marshall, Charlie Baxter, Zara Browell, Grace Browell, Jenny Handley, Emelia Simpson, Charley Anstee, Ula Campbell, Lily Juggins, Georgia Brown, Georgie Smibert, Giovanni Sizino, Lucy Embleton, Stuart Hyde, Megan Green, Pip Terry, Freya Marshall, Ross McMeekin, Rachel Curran, Lydia Allen, Joseph Thomas, James Wilkes, Joel Kirkbride; art crew director – Rosalyn Browell; programme design – Jessica Harle; head of front of house – Millie Harrop. Stewards: Arthur Mills, Laura Leadbitter, Jack Jorgensen.




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