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Return to the Forbidden Planet

New Theatre, Oxford

This is the 25th anniversary revival of one of the most preposterous and unlikely musicals ever to win an Olivier Award (it beat out Miss Saigon and Buddy). Cobbled together by Bob Carlton from snippets of Shakespeare, retro hit songs of the 1960s through the 1980s, a really cheap set, hilarious outer space costumes and the plots of Shakespeare’s The Tempest cloned to the film Forbidden Planet with an overlay of feminist argument, this show should not work – but it most emphatically does. Partly it is the wittiness and sheer Goon-like spoofery. Partly it is the fact that every actor is also playing up to 4 or 5 instruments brilliantly and singing and dancing. Partly it is because there is a good deal of audience involvement; high spirits; high jinks; and a kind of Pantomime for Grown-Ups who want to be kids again approach! You can have a lot of fun and mental exercise spotting the reference to the original play, the film and the lines that are wrenched bleeding from Shakespearean texts and then, Frankenstein-like, zapped back into a weird sort of life despite the scars, elisions and changes made. This touring cast is remarkable for its energy and range of talents. The performers work brilliantly as an ensemble; but also enjoy their solo moments and make the most of them. The raucous music is beautifully performed and never too loud, though it verges on that; and there is great pleasure in recognizing favourite songs as well as favourite quotations from the Bard throughout the evening.

All in all there is nothing to describe. This is one you have to experience to understand what all the fuss is about. It must have been one of the first ever compilation musicals and it shares the spirit of shows like The Rocky Horror Show, though I find it more witty and the whole show utterly infectious with delight. You even come out humming the set.

Jonathan Markwood as the nutty Professor Prospero, Joseph Mann as Ariel (based on Robbie the Robot as well as Ariel the sprite – a sort of Bride of Frankenstein construction?), Christine Holman as a Science Officer with a mysterious past and Mark Newnham as the hopeless Cookie were particular standouts for me. I was very impressed and amused throughout and recommend this is a completely undemanding, charming and entertaining way to spend an evening. And then I think you should see the 1956 MGM film Forbidden Planet and Shakespeare’s The Tempest and marvel at Bob Carlton’s inventiveness.

  • Musical
  • Written and Directed by Bob Carlton
  • Cast Includes: Sean Needham, Cristine Holman, Mark Newnham, Jonathan Markwood, Joseph Mann, Sarah Scowen
  • New Theatre, Oxford
  • Touring until end of May 2015
  • Review by Mel Cooper
  • 31 March 2015

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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