Writer and Director: Bob Carlton
Musical Director: Greg Last
Choreographer: Fredrick “Frido” Ruth
Reviewer: Michael Gray
This is a bit of a boom time for Shakespeare’s Tempest – featured in both Stratford opening ceremonies, and now in Hornchurch. True, there are two degrees of separation here, in the Bard’s cult rock and roll musical Return to the Forbidden Planet, directed by its onlie begetter, the Queen’s Theatre’s Artistic Director Bob Carlton.
It’s a fun show for all the family, brash and noisy, but witty and clever, too. To get the best out of it, you need a working knowledge of the Shakespeare canon, plus a record collection stretching back to Dansette days.
Who better to bring it back to the stage than the resident company of actor/musicians, Cut to the Chase, whose Moliere/Porter musical was such a success last year.
We start with a bit of mingling, checking the bags and the beer, warming up for the Polarity Reversal routine, distributing those little blue pills – the in-flight catering for the Starship Albatross. Then it’s into the playlist and the iambic pentameters as we blast off into outer space to the tune of Telstar, with stylophone obbligato. The last words spoken on stage are from Henry VI part 3, just before The Byrds’ Mr Spaceman. Which gives you some idea of the cultural juxtapositions going on.
Richard O’Brien is the celebrity on celluloid this time round, giving us a prologue, a recap and a Puckish epilogue. Other familiar faces, at least in Havering, are Simon Jessop’s Bosun Arras, and Natasha Moore’s teenage Miranda. James Earl Adair brought gravitas as well as a sense of fun to Mad Scientist Dr Prospero, Jane Milligan was outstanding as the ball-breaking Science Officer, and it was a joy to see Fredrick “Frido” Ruth reprise his rôle as the robotic Ariel – dancing, playing sax, roller skating – his “Who’s Sorry Now” was the stand-out number for me. He also choreographed the show – the slomo weightless sequence was entertainingly ingenious.
Two newcomers in the company – Sean Needham’s pipe-smoking Dan Dare figure, the dauntless Captain Tempest, and Mark Newnham’s Cookie. An amazing performance this – convincing as the “simple homespun lad” who woos Miranda, but a great musician too, giving us a visceral, virtuosic guitar solo.
The beat is powered by dual drum-kits either side of the stage; MD Greg Last directed his musicians from the flight deck above the action, as well as singing and playing. But in this company, everyone is multi-talented, so we hear Prospero on tambourine for Good Vibrations, and Miranda on flute for Georgie Fame’s Yeh Yeh.
Rodney Ford’s design, though not without glitz, captures the B-movie feel, and the “wonderful tackiness” of the original, exemplified by the hair-dryer ray-guns.
The Hornchurch audience loved it – their rapturous ovation was rewarded with a modest megamix encore set that stayed just the right side of self-indulgent …