Return to the Forbidden Planet

Bob Carlton
Queen's Theatre Hornchurch Production on tour
Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne
(2002)

When a show achieves great popularity over many years, it can go one of two ways: it can be frozen in time, with its followers knowing every move and intonation, or it can develop and change. Look at Les Mis or Chicago, for instance: the former has not changed - every Valjean has to sing like Colm Wilkinson! - and I have seen the same production of the latter twice, once on Broadway and once at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland.

Bob Carlton, however, is not one to stand still and repeat himself. Although Return to the Forbidden Planet is nineteen years old and has West End and Broadway productions, as well as many tours, under its belt, this is a new production, which opened at Hornchurch in August last year. The original show was a re-invention of the 50s sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, which was in turn a re-invention of Shakespeare's The Tempest: now Carlton has re-invented it again.

The production has a new set, new lighting and new songs. Actually, the songs are not new: they're old, but they're new to the show. The set is very similar to previous incarnations but has been designed to take account of new technology, which is also the case for the lighting. The development of intelligent lights has been a real benefit for the show, enabling effects which, in the past, would have required a multitude of luminaires. Their ability to swing and turn, to project gobos and change colour and to spin beams like a laser makes them a natural for this kind of show. I tried to count the number of MACs onstage, but eventually gave up.

All the specials in previous productions are still there - Patrick Moore on video as the chorus, the use of on-stage video cameras, Cookie's Jimi Hendrix style guitar solo - so the verdict of the show's fans is very definitely "very much the same, but better"!

And there are many, many fans. A cold, very wet October Monday night in Newcastle is a time for staying at home, not venturing out into the worst weather we've had for months, but the fans turned out in their hundreds and there was a near-full house, and a very enthusiastic one, too: anyone who did not join in the bit of audience participation would have felt very lonely!

It's a fun show, with clever use of Shakespeare's words from every play you can think of (plus a bit of Keats at one point!), well-chosen songs of the fifties and early sixties, superb effects and, in particular, a multi-talented cast, each of whom acts, sings and plays a number of instruments: some as many as nine, none less than three. The characters are caricatures, of course, but the cast play them for all they're worth and the audience loved it - and if the girl sitting next to me in row C of the Dress Circle has lost her voice, she'll fnd it in my right ear!

For details of the rest of the tour, look here.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan