FrightFest Halloween (2020): Alien On Stage

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Directed by Lucy Harvey & Danielle Kummer

This documentary was originally going to be part of my FrightFest diaries. Though, as per Relic, the Day 4 entry was fast filling up, and I didn’t want it to end up being 3000 words. Besides, I loved it so darn much that I thought it warranted a separate page to itself. Anyway, straight from LV-426 to a theatre near you, and now a telly: it’s Alien. A former colleague told me about this play, back when I lived in London: an am-dram take on the Ridley Scott classic. ‘What a shit idea’, I thought. How’d that work? Unfortunately, I never saw it to find out – though part of me stayed curious as to how (and why) anybody would attempt to capture that film theatrically. In theory, it isn’t a terrible idea, since it mostly takes place in one location and has a small cast. But then you also have to have a production team capable of making backdrops that resemble a spaceship, manage a convincing chest burst scene and make a super scary alien. Nobody can be expected to do this – especially not on a shoestring. So, fittingly, the unique adaptation by the Dorset Bus Drivers, who left their little village for the lights of the West End, is a whole different monster. As this making-of shows though, it wasn’t about doing it right per se. It’s was about doing it, and having ruddy good fun in the process.

Alien on Stage is an exuberant celebration for underdogs everywhere, telling them to never give up on their dreams – even if it seems like they should. One of my favourite moments is early on when a member of the crew casually mentions that they’d previously done panto – which makes the choice of material even more baffling. With its wobbly sets, iffy effects and less than impressive acting, it should be depressing to watch. Yet with the obvious passion on display, the jaunty soundtrack and quick edits there’s something undeniably euphoric about witnessing it come together. Importantly, even if the play was unintentionally funny (which the actors very much learn to play to by the end) we’re never encouraged to laugh at anyone involved with it – always with them. The directorial duo is obviously as enthusiastic as the troupe, and there’s such warmth to how their story is told. So, when the show is a flop at first, with a mere 20 people showing up, it could be played for cringe or tragedy. However, the documentary doesn’t focus on this minor setback, and minutes later, the team learn they’re off to Leicester Square – a location FrightFesters will be missing. Where they’ll play the local auditorium the night before Joan Collins (meaning they’ll also be first in line!).

Like Scott before, Harvey and Kummer keep the alien off-screen for the most part, making for a personal piece instead of a technical breakdown. It’s only in the third act that we get an extended highlight reel, meaning much of the documentary’s success comes from how charming the cast and crew are. They’re a diverse team of loveable misfits and rogues, not dissimilar to the parts they’re playing, who are maybe the furthest you can get from luvvies. No, they’re not professional actors, who are classically trained, and that’s the point. There’s absolutely no ego here, and each gets enough screen-time to pass the pint test. It’s so endearing to see them operate as friends as well as colleagues, explain how you turn a cycle helmet into a xenomorph head, and fudge their timing during the many rehearsals. Making their eventual success – the show itself – rewarding, and such a joy to behold. It’s the One Cut of the Dead of the year. A delighted audience hoot, holler and rejoice over every second – even calling “he’s behind you” like the pantomime they could have been doing. It’s a glorious atmosphere – the cast and crew may have felt written off before, but the standing ovation they receive is the most emotional and heartfelt moment of catharsis I’ve seen all year. It’s also up there with Clapboard Jungle as the most inspiring! An unexpected reminder of the power of both film and theatre alike to move. When the script-writer casually says one of his other ideas was Kill Bill, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to see a sequel so much.

Rating: ★★★★★

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About david.s.smith 449 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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