Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Return to the Forbidden Planet at the New Wimbledon Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Return to the Forbidden Planet at the New Wimbledon Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Return to the Forbidden Planet at the New Wimbledon Theatre
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26 Mar REVIEW: Return to the Forbidden Planet at the New Wimbledon Theatre

Ariel in Return to the Forbidden Planet_SmallReturn to the Forbidden Planet is a musical so benignly preposterous it has to be seen to be believed. Originally billed as Shakespeare’s forgotten rock and roll masterpiece, it’s exactly as weird and wonderful as that makes it sound, with space travel, laser guns and a monster or two thrown in for good measure. More than a wild fantasy cooked up by an unstable mind, the show has garnered a cult-like following that’s enjoyed numerous regional and touring productions, as well as a West End version that actually won best new musical Oliviers in both 1989 and 1990. Not bad for a jukebox musical based on the music of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Picture the scene. You’re inside a spaceship that runs on music (okay, strong start), with Captain Tempest, Scientific Officer Gloria and their mish-mash crew of musicians-come-Space Cadets on a routine survey flight (still with me?). But when the flight gets caught in a meteor shower, Gloria flees and the spaceship is drawn to an alien planet, where a mysterious scientist, Doctor Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda have been stranded.


As I say, it has to be seen to be believed. With a plot apparently based (incredibly loosely) on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the similarities run about as far as a 3 point plot summary, a handful of names and a sprinkling of quotes. But it provides the most wonderful excuse for including sequences of iambic pentameter, a clever interweaving of Shakespearean verse with lines from songs spanning the decades, all bastardised into relevance with the story. And for those with more intellectual pursuits in mind, I recommend a spot of bard bingo, crossing off each play as you recognise a (mis-)quote.

Fun and freaky, what’s not to love about a fire breathing (and singing and dancing) robot? Or a giant, green, cartoon monster with inflatable tentacles? I would never recommend Return to the Forbidden Planet to anyone who doesn’t know, or have a soft spot for, the music of the ‘50s and ‘60s, but if you do, it’s a production that boasts a cast of phenomenally talented musicians playing live on stage, wearing costumes with “guns” that until very recently were used to dry hair. My highlight? Definitely watching a snubbed Cookie (Mark Newnham) getting his rock star on to an impassioned version of The Zombies’ She’s Not There. Embrace the weirdness.

Steve Simmonds as Bosun Mark Newnham as Cookie and Georgina Field as Anne Droid in Return to the Forbidden PlanetIt’s definitely a production with a lot of problems. It has the feeling that someone’s made a valiant attempt at dragging it, kicking, and screaming, up to date with the best of intentions, before giving up and giving in, as the shoehorned-in token gesture contemporary references finally give way and we’re allowed to embrace the retro vibe. It suffers from the use of hand held microphones which muddy the sound quality and feel incredibly unnatural, the projections are terrible and it has to be said that it would benefit from a bit more strength and depth in the singing department (or maybe that’s down to the sound levels). I’m also yet to understand quite why the excruciatingly stupid (not to mention annoying) pseudo-American accents are quite necessary.

But with all its bizarre silliness, I actually had a really rather fun evening, in what can only be described as an irresistible nostalgia-fest.

With the finesse of a 12 year old wielding a hacksaw, Return to the Forbidden Planet definitely couldn’t be described as the pinnacle of theatrical sophistication. But with a bizarre, cultish appeal, it does inhabit some serious guilty pleasure territory, and it would be very hard to leave the theatre without a ridiculous grin plastered across your face. Though perhaps a puzzled frown might suffice.

Venue: New Wimbledon Theatre, and on tour
Dates: 23rd – 28th March 2015
For tickets and information:
Image: Nobby Clark

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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