“One of the most hilarious and unapologetically chaotic musicals I have seen in Durham.”

With glitter, high energy and enthusiasm from everyone involved, Foot of the Hill’s production of Return to the Forbidden Planet is one of the most hilarious and unapologetically chaotic musicals I have seen in Durham. Set in a futuristic spaceship, Return to the Forbidden Planet is a rock ‘n roll jukebox musical loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest (emphasis on loosely!). 

As soon as the musical began the audience were greeted with improvised audience interaction, foreshadowing the madness to come! Although the immersive improvisation seemed a little hesitant at first, the cast soon warmed into it, showcasing their closeness in performing with one another. The energy and dedication of each character was exceptional, a testament to the work of the director and assistant director: Maddie Hurley and Niamh Williams, and the enjoyment the whole cast had performing was clear. Notably, Captain Tempest, played by Olga Kwan, was particularly commanding from the very beginning of the production. Kwan’s subtle facial expressions throughout the production provided the audience with a deeper insight into the character and gave a suitable air of the confidence expected from such a character. Cookie, played by Luis-Paul Gray, captured the character’s ‘hopeless romantic’ nature and nervous energy perfectly, and his characterisation never faltered no matter if he was in the spotlight or walking to the wings. Gray’s iconic knee slides whilst playing the guitar were most entertaining, prompting whooping from the entire audience every time. Scout Pemberton’s characterisation of Doctor Prospero was most impressive, with clear dedication and commitment in ensuring the scientist is presented to his full madness! I did feel the movement of the ensemble could have perhaps been structured to a greater extent, however they did a fantastic job at working together and reacting to the action on the stage. 

Despite the band being in a different room, both cast and band did a brilliant job at keeping in time– a testament to all involved! Although I do think use of music during the opening improvised scene would have greatly added to the atmosphere, the music and singing throughout the rest of the production was thoroughly entertaining and was a highlight of this production. Every member of the cast blew the audience away with their vocals. I would particularly like to mention Ella Hart, playing Gloria the mysterious science officer, who left the audience wide-eyed after showcasing her vocal talent in ‘Gloria’. Alvi Lindborg-Koh’s soprano voice similarly left chills and Georgie Hubbard’s vocal decoration in ‘Teenager in Love’ was especially memorable. Anna Wollaghan’s choreography also added to the high energy atmosphere of this musical, particularly in ‘Great Balls of Fire’. It would have been great, however, to have seen more ensemble dancing!

Despite the show taking place in Mary’s dining hall, a fantastic job was done in transforming the space. The three-tiered stage was cleverly designed and decorated to immerse us into the characters’ world inside of the spaceship. The size of the stage did, however, slightly hinder the cast’s dancing and perhaps either a larger stage or fewer members of the cast dancing together would have been more appropriate. The use of the projection screen is particularly commendable and this clever addition to the production greatly added to the audience’s experience. Ned Reid’s lighting design similarly transports the audience. With the limited lighting inevitable when putting on a production in a venue such as this, Reid does an incredible job utilising it to its full potential. 

In summary, this fever-dream musical is an enjoyable and entertaining end to the term. The whole cast, band and CPT should be very proud of what they’ve created, and I can’t wait to see what Foot of the Hill achieves next year! 

Return to the Forbidden Planet is Showing at 8:30pm in Mary’s Dining Hall on the 22nd and 23rd of June.

By Rachel Wilkinson

Photo Credits: Foot of the Hill Theatre Company