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Return to the Forbidden Planet - Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

Published by: Dan Zbijowski on 8th Nov 2014 | View all blogs by Dan Zbijowski

My first trip to Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, was a highly enjoyable one. Having acted as Ariel in the same production some 18 years ago, I was keen to see this anniversary edition of Return to the Forbidden Planet. Fully expecting a rip-roaring ride, this musical extravaganza set aboard a spaceship didn’t disappoint.

Bob Carlton, the original creator of Return to the Forbidden Planet has also directed its latest incarnation. With his 17 year stint as Creative Director of Queen’s Theatre drawing to a close, he has an impressive resume from his time in charge, including creating the UK's only permanent company of actor/musicians. It therefore seemed fitting that a show specifically designed for such a company (and created by the man himself no less) was the one to lower the curtain on his time at Queen’s.

2 Beeps or not 2 Beeps.jpg
Photographer Credit - Nobby Clark

Return to the Forbidden Planet is part sci-fi b-movie, part rock'n'roll concert, with a healthy sprinkling of Shakespeare. The script is loosely based on the plot of Shakespeare’s Tempest and 50's b-movie Forbidden Planet. It centres on Dr. Prospero’s experimentation with brain enhancing drug “the X-factor” and the side effects it has. The musical is cleverly interwoven with parodies from the Bards many plays, and includes quotes that you’ll recognise, if not immediately, including the most famous ones from Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet.

Being set in a spaceship, the audience were treated to a pre-blast-off safety demonstration... if only standard airline flights had a 'reverse polarity drill procedure' that required audience participation. Already fully engaged in the action, a cameo from Brian May appearing as the Chorus via projector screen further set the tone of the fun to come. An estranged wife, a love triangle, a robot on roller skates, a monster from the Id and more instruments than an orchestra practise, the action never stopped.

A wonderfully Machiavellian Dr. Prospero, played by Jonathan Markwood, was probably just outdone in the performance stakes by the energetic and comically lovelorn Mark Newnham as Cookie, whose efforts playing guitar were as worthy of a stadium as a stage. A special nod should also be given to “Frido” Ruth playing Ariel, who, as well wearing a clunky robot suit and using Roller Skates, at one point managed to skate, carry a fellow actor and play an instrument all at the same time!

Cookie Rocks the show.jpg
Photographer Credit - Nobby Clark

My only small gripe was that the hand mikes, although used to comic effect, felt clunky and the hand overs were awkward in places. As this was a preview show there is no doubt that these issues will be worked out with stage time.

Despite being as crazy as it sounds and celebrating its 25th year, the show has lost none of its appeal. It certainly doesn’t feel dated in any way, the timeless and instantly recognisable songs have some modern riffs included, ensuring the production feels contemporary.  

The humour, musical agility and energy from the cast make this a thoroughly entertaining watch and they fully deserved the impromptu standing ovation at the end.  

The current run of Return to the Forbidden Planet at Hornchurch is already sold out, but there is no doubt that the longer this show goes on, the funnier it will get. With a nationwide tour planned early next year, I fully intend to catch it again and suggest you do too.

 By Dan Zbijowski

Until 15th November.
The Queen's Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch RM11 1QT
Box Office: 01708 443333 
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1 Comment

  • Joe Moss
    by Joe Moss 3 years ago
    Always meant to see this but haven't managed to yet. Good review, sorry I've missed it yet again!
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