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SXSW 2021

Review: Alien On Stage


- Bus drivers from England decide to stage Ridley Scott’s horror classic. The resulting amateur production is still better than Alien: Resurrection

Review: Alien On Stage

Every year, a group of bus drivers from the UK gather together to do some amateur dramatics and raise a little money for charity. After years of doing a traditional pantomime, they decide that they want to do something a little different. So instead of Robin Hood, men dressed as women and lashings of audience participation, they turn to Ridley Scott’s Alien, one the most influential horror and sci-fi films of all time.

The play is something of a flop in the bus drivers’ native Dorset, but after coming to the attention of filmmakers Danielle Kummer and Lucy Harvey, the crew manages to score a date at London’s Leicester Square Theatre. As the day of the big performance approaches and the motley band of bus drivers and amateur players struggle to make time for rehearsals and to build the necessary props (including a working chestburster), they become increasingly nervous. When the time comes for them to head to London’s West End, will the crew of the Nostromo / No.46 to the High Street manage to dazzle their audience?

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Much of the fun of Alien On Stage [+see also:
film profile
comes from the incongruity between the source material and the adaptation. In the original Alien, Parker is played by the (recently deceased) Yaphet Kotto, all bulk with an intimidating presence whose intensity was no doubt amplified by the actor’s own beliefs and his involvement with Black militancy. In the stage show, Parker is played by Mike, a man in his fifties whose past encounters with the Black militant movement are – and I fully admit to guessing here – most likely close to non-existent. To be fair to Mike, he does have a stab at an American accent, which is more than can be said of the rest of the cast, their dulcet Southern English regional tones flinging out a ‘goddamn’ or ‘son of a bitch’ whilst all displaying wildly varying degrees of acting ability. Ripley herself is played by Lydia, who also happens to be the wife of the play’s director Dave and the mother of scriptwriter/ sound technician Luc. Dave himself is an ex-military man and tries to corral the crew into learning their lines, while sometimes wondering what he’s got himself in for.

Acting aside, there is also the need for props and sets which are provided by Lydia’s dad and the ever enthusiastic Pete, who uses YouTube videos, wire and a large amount of polystyrene to create a working Xenomorph and Chestburster for next to nothing.

But the incongruity of the whole enterprise is treated with respect and a sense of joy. There is never any sense of the film making fun of the participants or sneering at their efforts. Rather, there is genuine affection here for everyone concerned. Indeed, while the stakes are somewhat low – there is no big drama, no walkouts or seismic revelations – the final third of the film (which takes place in London and contains a fulsome portion of the stage sound) is genuinely moving and tense as you feel the nervousness of the cast and crew with setting everything up, followed by a wave of joy and elation when the audience gives them a rapturous response. The final few title cards feel like ‘punch in the air’ moments of triumph.

Kummer and Harvey themselves play with format as much as they can to try and elevate the film from being just a series of talking heads. The space age graphics, some cute animation (a bus floating in space), clips from Scott’s original and a few tricks (the underside of buses filmed to look like spacecraft) give it some cinematic impetus, though the film remains best suited to VOD or television.

One of the few issues with the film is the fact that it never really addresses the intended tone of the show: did its creators ever meant for it to be taken seriously? Unsurprisingly, the London audience treat it all with ironic humour. The filmmakers’ own involvement in bringing the show to London could also have been covered in more depth.

But these are only small complaints about an otherwise genuinely fun, sweet and heartfelt documentary that celebrates how creative endeavour can be found in the most unlikely of places.

After its international premiere at SXSW (with a world premiere at last year’s London Frightfest), the film should pique some interest on the documentary and genre festival circuit before finding a comfortable home on VOD. It would also be unsurprising if, pandemic allowing, the crew were asked to put on the play in other places around the globe.

Alien on Stage was produced by Fool For Love Films and Western Edge Pictures Ltd.

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