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Return to the Forbidden Planet: Review

Return to the Forbidden Planet: Review

SAVING the crew of the US spaceship Albatross has to be worth putting on your CV.

Along with the rest of the audience at Whitstable’s Playhouse Theatre I performed this super-human task by rubbing the top of my head with my hands. It was a tad embarrassing but it seemed to do the trick.

Return to the Forbidden Planet is a strange musical based on a cross between Shakespeare’s Tempest (borrowing lines from the Bard’s other plays) and the 1950s B-movie Forbidden Planet, all laced together with rock songs like Great Balls of Fire, Good Vibrations, Teenager In Love and Shake, Rattle and Roll .

Square-jawed Captain Tempest (played by a laid-back pipe-smoking Nik Walker) has his ship sucked into the Planet Delirious by the sinister Doctor Prospero, the original mad scientist.

Prospero was wildly played by Benjamin Underdown whose independently-sprung eyebrows stole the show. The man is a theatrical genius, commanding the attention of the audience with a simple wiggle of those ridiculous facial caterpillars.

He has stage presence in bucket loads and a fine voice, too, delivering one of the most unusual versions of Shakin’ All Over I have heard.

The only one with a voice to match, in that strange whining twang loved by 50s female singers, was his on-stage wife Gloria, the ship’s science officer, played by Clare Stokes, Underdown’s real-life fiancé.forbidden planet 2

Hidden beneath 90-minutes’ worth of make-up, armour plating and a wig of wire wool was primary school teacher Pauline Etheridge as Ariel, the robot who ended up “stoned” on mind-bending drugs.

Her full-on fast and furious performance, while teetering on silver platform shoes with six-inch heels and uttering such immortal lines as “Beware the ids that march” was a joy to behold.

Adding celebrity glamour to Theatrecraft’s production was BBC Radio Four’s News Quiz presenter Sandi Toksvig. The Herne Bay resident made the mistake of popping her head round the door of the Kings Hall in January while the group was performing its panto. Director Debi Lovell (who sings in blues and soul band Rubber Biscuit) pounced and asked if she would record video inserts as the Newscaster.

It was a small part but Sandi played it in her own inimitable way.

Also in the cast were Andrea Oliver as Bosun Arras, Claire Barton as the navigating officer and Nick Glykeriou as the ship’s love-sick chef Cookie. Heidi Griggs played the love interest Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, but seemed a little miscast and it would have been nice to have seen more of the live band.

But as the cast said at the end in homage to Star Trek’s Mr Spock: “Live long and Prospero…”

John Nurden

Whitstable Times Review: 4th August 2011