Note: This review dates from September 2001 and an earlier tour stop for this production.
Having stolen the Olivier for Best Musical out from under the noses of Miss Saigon and Buddy back in 1990, this raucous rock musical, Return to the Forbidden Planet, comes with an impressive pedigree. And more than a decade on - in a new touring production which reunites many of the original creative team, including creator and director Bob Carlton - it still packs a rollicking punch.
Based very loosely on Shakespeare's The Tempest and the 1957 Oscar-nominated sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, Forbidden Planet is a mix of poetry and pop which is an odd one but it works.
On a Thunderbirds-style starship (designed by Rodney Ford), the crew's mission is to locate Dr Prospero (James Earl Adair). The mad scientist vanished from the face of the earth some years ago but is believed to be somewhere in space, developing a mind-bending drug that will destroy civilisation. On the bridge, in nominal control of the search party, is pipe-smoking bore, Captain Tempest (Adrian Cobey). He's the unsuspecting, and undeserving, love interest of the mad doctor's daughter Miranda (Sarah Beaumont), a virile virgin whose offer to sacrifice herself is cruelly ignored. Tempest's only redeeming feature is a singing voice, which is so good he gets the girl in the end anyway.
Elsewhere, Fredrick Ruth proves an agile and amusing Ariel, the robot with a heart who has the freedom of the flight deck to prove what a boring lot humans really are. Despite being lumbered with a Michelin-man bikini, Ruth sings and dances with aplomb - all on roller skates - and comes dangerously close to stealing the show, especially during his fire-eating trick which scares the living daylights out of those sat front of stalls.
Philip Reed makes a sweet Cookie, immensely loveable to the audience if not to Miranda, the object of his own ardour. And Diana Croft, as the Science Officer, wins top marks as the best singer by far on this intergalactic block.
It hasn't quite reached fancy dress fuelled Rocky Horror proportions (yet), but - with its tongue-in-cheek combination of Shakespeare verse and bubblegum pop lyrics that everyone recognises, dynamic choreography, Gerry Anderson's affectionately amateurish special effects and space bucketfuls of spirit - Return to the Forbidden Planet is a much-loved modern rock musical that inspires repeat viewings, which this extensive tour will happily allow for.
And did I mention audience participation? A la Rocky Horror, this is of course a must. Your mission as a member of the audience is to save the ship by "reversing polarity". Go on, it's great fun - and it doesn't hurt.
- reviewed by John Timperley at Woking's New Victoria Theatre