Return to the Forbidden Planet
Return to the Forbidden Planet started life in a tent on Blackheath Park, London on Monday 23 May 1983.
Conceived, written and directed by Bob Carlton, Return to the Forbidden Planet started life with the Bubble Theatre Company and was designed to be performed in a tent in and around the parks of outer London. Designed originally as little more than two hours of family entertainment, Carlton had no idea that the show would have any more life after that first summer of performances.
However, the show was seen by the creative team at The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool who offered Carlton the chance to re-work the show and produce it in an indoor theatre. He jumped at the chance and the resulting production was deemed successful enough to return to London where it was produced (in a slightly different form again) at The Tricycle Theatre. It was at the Tricycle that the show finally came to the attention of a West End producer by the name of Andre Ptaszynski.
Ptaszynksi knew he was watching a potential hit, so arranged for the production to open at The Cambridge Theatre in September 1989.
Realising he was on the brink of real success with the show, Carlton knew that this incarnation would have to be the one. Kate Burnett, the original designer, was commissioned to completely redesign the spaceship and top West End lighting designer Benny Ball was brought in to light it. Bobby Aitken (who designed the sound for the original Bubble production) would design the sound system and leading choreographer Carole Todd would design the dance numbers. Never in its history had so much talent been assembled to work on the show. With such a top rate creative team supporting him, Carlton felt confident to increase the cast size and created a set of new characters for this production. As he comments on his website “The real challenge [for the West End version] would be the quest for more performers as the show turned into a larger scale musical.” A series of auditions were held in early 1989 to find the remaining crew members.
The West End production – the version you are seeing tonight – opened at The Cambridge Theatre in September 1989. To everyone’s relief the show was a massive success and that first run lasted a record breaking three and a half years!
Besides huge commercial appeal, Return to the Forbidden Planet was also a critical success and surprised everyone when it won the prestigious Olivier award for Best Musical of 1990. The reason for the show’s enormous popularity is simple – it’s fun and the songs are great.
The idea to create the show came from Carlton’s love of cheesy American science fiction of the 1950’s – and in particular 1956’s “Forbidden Planet”. The film may feel incredibly dated when watched today, but at the time it was a revelation in its portrayal of all things futuristic and it set the template for the science fiction that would be popularised a decade later in TV shows such as “Star Trek”. Knowing that the film was loosely based on Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”, when Carlton decided his show would be a sequel to the film (although the tile is bit of a misnomer as the show is more of a remake than a sequel) he made the decision to also return to the source play. The finished result is an affectionate pastiche of both. Add to the mix some wonderful and well known songs from the era (at times very loosely incorporated into the plot) and the result was a huge success.
And it’s a huge success that we hope we can repeat here at Henley with our production. Choosing the musical each year is always a difficult job as you try to pick a show that will be both an artistic challenge for the cast and crew and that will also be a crowd pleaser at Christmas. Having had great success last year with Grease, I was keen to find something that would replicate its winning formula and I hope Return to the Forbidden Planet is that show.
It’s certainly been a very demanding show to work on as it requires the building of the bridge of a space ship, complete with video monitor and working air lock. These may seem simple enough on paper, but bringing them to life on the tiny budget we have to work with at the college requires much scratching of heads. The production has been very fortunate this year to have had the specialist knowledge and assistance of professional film carpenter Martin Duffy who has built our space ship for us. With the generous donation of materials by Alan Passam we have been able to bring the whole show in (roughly) on budget. Add to that the film making expertise of Richard Thomas and Nic Dawkes who have slaved over the video monitor sequences and I hope you’ll agree we’ve managed to pull it off successfully.
Besides the physical construction aspect of the show, it’s also been a demanding show to stage with the cast. Bob Carlton is very specific in his notes on the show that actors walk a fine line when working on this show between affectionate pastiche and plain outright parody. We have found walking this line a difficult balancing act at times, but I hope we’ve been successful. We’ve definitely got our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks, but we’ve always treated the material with respect and tried hard to bring out the humour whilst maintaining a warmth for the characters and their situation. Certainly, when I watch the show I feel that we’ve created some laugh out loud moments, but we also have our moments when emotions feel genuine. It’s important, for example, that we feel for Cookie when he realises Miranda’s heart belongs to Tempest or that we feel a twinge of sadness as we watch the planet explode and all that that means. Of course, we’ve never lost sight that this is an upbeat feel good show and I owe David Golby and his band a massive thank you for providing us with the music and Emma Briggs a huge thank you for choreographing the dances. This isn’t really a dance based show and with so many of the crew seated or stood on thin walkways, finding dance opportunities hasn’t been easy, so I’m grateful to Emma – a student at the college, by the way – for all of her hard work and tireless enthusiasm for the piece.
As with any production there are always too many people to thank individually but to everyone who contributed in some way, I say thank you, but I would like to particularly thank Sam Scottorn, the technical director, of the show. This show will be Sam’s third official musical at the college and sadly will also be his last as he leaves us next year for adventures in Lapland! So, thank you Sam – good luck in whatever comes next and I hope that Return to the Forbidden Planet is a suitable send off.
I hope you enjoy this evening and will keep an eye out for future college productions.