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Return to the Forbidden Planet review at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London – ‘an affectionate revival’

Scene from Return to the Forbidden Planet at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London. Photo: Darren Bell
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Bob Carlton’s Return to the Forbidden Planet first landed in the West End in 1989 where it surprised many by beating Miss Saigon to the Olivier award for best new musical. Carlton’s recipe for success fuses rock ‘n roll standards with Shakespeare and science fiction to create one of the earliest modern jukebox musicals.

Director John Plews has gathered an enthusiastic and talented cast who pitch the story at just the right level of camp to make it fly, highlighted by presenter Angela Rippon featuring as an on-screen narrator. Amy Yardley’s lavender and pink set design helps set the tone, complementing the powder blue uniforms of the crew of the spaceship Albatross as it heads for the planet D’Illyria.

Alex Fobbester is an appropriately square-jawed Captain Tempest while Ellie Ann Lowe delivers a powerhouse vocal performance as the wronged woman, Gloria. Stephanie Hockley oozes playful innocence as Miranda singing Teenager In Love but it’s Edward Hole as Cookie who captures the energy and angst of unrequited love. Hole’s rendition of She’s Not There, complete with frenzied guitar riffs and rasping Shakespearian prose lends beef to the fairly patchy narrative and all-but stops the show with its power.

In a show that demands versatility from its actor/musician cast Simon Oskarsson as the robot Ariel stands out. Making his professional debut painted silver, Oskarsson body-pops on roller skates throughout, even while belting out accompaniment on the trumpet. It’s a credit to Oskarsson that after all this, the actor still manages to invest the tin man with a distinctly likeable personality.

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Affectionate, fast paced revival performed by a talented, versatile cast