REVIEW: Return to the Forbidden Planet – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

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25 years on and Bob Carlton’s quite frankly bonkers idea to take Shakespeare’s The Tempest, by way of 1956 sci-fi movie classic Forbidden Planet and turn it into a musical jam-packed with the greatest hits of the 50s and 60s, is still wowing audiences up and down the country.

The success of the Olivier Award-winning Return to the Forbidden Planet, and why it is still able to entertain a quarter of a century on, is down to several factors: the sheer good-natured spirit which imbues the whole  production, there is joy and silliness oozing out of every pore; there’s the unbelievable talent of its multi-instrumentalist cast – there isn’t a weak link among them and each pours their heart and soul into their performance; there’s the chance to play clever-Dick and see how many Shakespearean quotes you can spot and the plays they came from, and of course, there’s the outstanding soundtrack of the great and the good from the golden age of rock and roll. What’s not to love?

The show’s greatest strength on this tour is its cast, and as churlish as it may seem to single out any particular performers, there are a few standouts who deserve mention: as Cookie, Mark Newnham’s musicianship is exceptional, in particular during “She’s Not There”, where he manages, with ease, in a guitar solo, to fit in riffs from: “Smoke on the Water”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Purple Haze” to name just a few, couple this with a show-stopping voice and he’s a talent to watch. Sean Needham, returning to the role of Captain Tempest, is as fine-voiced as ever and Christine Holman (Gloria) and Sarah Scowen (Miranda) both possess voices which could blow the roof off.

Return to the Forbidden Planet isn’t without its faults: yes, the hits have been shoe-horned into the plot, yes, the storyline is a slight as silver, yes, it’s as cheesy as Camembert, yes, the set is as (intentionally) ropey as it ever was (wobbling microphones and spray-painted hairdryer guns) but you wouldn’t or couldn’t have it any other way and boy is it easy to forgive it all because it is just so damned entertaining.

If it’s wall-to-wall hits, a top-class cast and an evening of pure escapism on a cold winter’s night you’re after then you need look no further than Return to the Forbidden Planet. Jokey, joyous, irreverent, infectious, its ability to get an audience on its feet remains undiminished after all these years – it’s good to have it back.

5 *****

Runs until Sat 14 February 2015, then touring.

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