FANTASIA 2021 REVIEW: ‘Alien on Stage’ (2020) Turns Serious Sci-Fi Into Crowd-Pleasing Comedy

Rating: 4 out of 5.
A group of middle-aged people, many of whom are dressed in costume as characters from the film 'Alien'. The actor playing the Alien stands in the centre, surrounded by others in spacesuits. A woman on the far right holds a severed head prop.
Image courtesy of IMDb

It’s not often that a Hollywood blockbuster gets turned into a community theatre production, especially one featuring a cast of middle-aged bus drivers. But back in 2013, Dorset-based amateur theatre group Paranoid Dramatics embarked upon a truly daunting endeavour— bringing Ridley Scott’s iconic 1979 sci-fi film Alien to the stage. A significant departure from their usual fare of family-friendly pantomimes, the production only saw around 20 people attend its opening night. The show’s initial run could have easily been its last, if it hadn’t been for the remarkable series of events that followed. After driving up from London to see the show on a whim, Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer made its director, Dave Mitchell, an offer he couldn’t refuse— the chance to bring Alien to the West End for one night only. Thus, the Fantasia-featured documentary Alien on Stage was born.

The first half of the film sees Harvey and Kummer chronicle the weeks that lead up to the group’s big performance, which takes them from local venue Allendale Centre to the famed Leicester Square Theatre. The duo interviews the various cast and crew members involved in the play and records footage of their rehearsals, which feel very much like what one would expect from a community theatre production. There’s something almost laughable about how young playwright Luc Hayward— the stepson of Mitchell and Lydia Hayward, who stars in the production as Ripley— earnestly calls Alien “almost a perfect movie to adapt” for the stage because of its simple set design. The film’s complex plot and heavy reliance on practical effects would make it a challenge for even the most seasoned theatre professionals to bring to life. And yet, the way the cast and crew embrace their amateur status is what makes Alien on Stage so endearing.

“I’ve never really done anything like this before,” special effects and props designer Peter Lawford remarks as he details the process of assembling the Alien’s costume, explaining that he turned to online instructions in order to do so. This acknowledgement of the production’s novelty to those involved is often reiterated throughout the film, which is itself the product of amateur documentarians. Alien on Stage makes no pretense of professionalism as far as its key players are concerned. At one point, bus driver Jason Hill, who has taken on the role of Captain Dallas, mentions he is studying law and jokes about becoming an actor if that career doesn’t work out. Cast members are shown struggling with their lines, appearing to spend more time taking snack breaks than actually rehearsing. Last-minute changes are made to props and costumes, and Mitchell is shown to be at his breaking point several times. Still, it is clear that everyone involved is genuinely excited about what they have created.

An actor dressed in costume as the Alien holds up his headpiece. The elongated black contraption covers his face and features a row of white teeth. The rest of the outfit consists of black gloves and a black top and chest piece.
Image courtesy of The Guardian

When it comes time for Alien to make its West End debut, one can’t help but root for this ragtag group of performers to somehow pull it off. Unlike the kind of productions that would normally be seen in a London theatre of this caliber, the show takes to the stage with only a handful of rehearsals behind it. As the curtain goes up, Alien on Stage treats its audience to several minutes of footage from the performance itself as it attempts to capture the feeling of being in the Leicester Square Theatre that night— complete with the crowd’s reaction. Even though Paranoid Dramatics had set out to turn Alien into a serious stage play, they discover that the unique nature of their adaptation lends itself well to comedic form. While some moments do elicit the desired ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs,’ others are met instead with uproarious laughter, adding a surprising level of enjoyment to a production that otherwise would not work. Just like the play it is centered on, Alien on Stage is an experience that is one of a kind, guaranteed to unexpectedly delight and amuse those who decide to give it a shot. 

Dir: Lucy Harvey, Danielle Kummer

Prod: Adam F. Goldberg

Cast: Jason Hill, Lydia Hayward, Jacqui Roe

Release Date: 24 October 2020

Available On: TBA