Return to the Forbidden Planet (Hornchurch and 2015 tour)

Yu can’t keep a good story, let alone nostalgia-evoking tunes, down. So Bob Carlton has restaged his “Return to the Forbidden Planet”.

First, way back in the 1950s, there was a B-movie called Forbidden Planet. Then Bob Carlton as artistic director of the Bubble Theatre in the 1980s took the story (loosely based on The Tempest) and gave it songs and much more Shakespeare.

Sarah Scowen & Sean Needham
Sarah Scowen & Sean Needham

Fast forward from a peripatetic company of singer-instrumentalist-actors to a similar but long-term in-house operation called cut to the chase… at Hornchurch's Queen's Theatre. Carlton as the theatre's artistic director for 17 years bows out with a spectacular revival which will tour nationally in 2015.

You have to hand it to the cast of eight principals – they all manage to perform complexly choreographed movements (often in slow-motion or else at high speed), play an array of instruments, sing and act – usually at the same time.

Technically, set and costume designer Rodney Ford, lighting designer Mark Dymock, visual effects designer Daniel Crew and choreographer Fredrick "Frido" Ruth have produced something to rank with many more expensive and elaborate musical stagings There are projections, strobe lighting and strange things which invade the auditorium as well as the stage.

Shakespeare buffs will have fun catching up with the quotations (not just from The Tempest, but from King Lear, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth and many many more).

Scientist Prospero (Jonathan Markwood)'s troubles have been partly caused by his ambitious wife (Christine Holman) and his now-teenaged daughter Miranda (Sarah Scowen) bids fair to add to them.

Candidates for Mirana's affections are the spaceship captain Tempest (Sean Needham), a laconic sort of pipe-chewing guy, and general dogsbody Cookie (Mark Newnham). Ariel is, appropriately enough, a robot (Joseph Mann, fully deserving his applause as a last-minute substitute for Ruth).

It all works very well, if (for my ears) excessively loudly, The projected sequences are clever, though the monster tentacles are perhaps just a trifle too pantomimic for this context. The first-night audience would gladly have stayed for more, and I suspect those who catch it on tour next year will echo that.

Return to the Forbidden Planet is at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch until 15 November and tours nationally between 20 January and 10 May 2015.