Alien On Stage

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Alien On Stage
"Nothing is taken too seriously - there's plenty of teasing within the group itself - but respect is shown for the effort that has gone into all this."

Every year, Dorset's Paranoid Dramatics society puts on a pantomime. Luc is charged with writing it. One year, however, he decided that he was tired of the usual fare. He wanted to adapt a film for the stage instead. After some discussion with the other members of the group, he settled on a family favourite which his mem first showed him when he was eight - Alien. It was the beginning of an unexpected adventure.

Inspired to tell the story of the group after seeing the play at a performance at the Allendale centre in Wimborne, directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer talked about it widely and were part of the reason why it attracted wider interest. This culminated in a request for the group to perform at the Leicester Square Theatre in the West End of London. It's their journey to do this that forms the backbone of the film.

Made up mostly of drivers and other staff from the Wiltshire & Dorset Bus Company, Paranoid Dramatics has no professional actors (though Luc's friend Scott, who plays Kane and the alien itself, seems to have ambitions in that direction) but it does have courage, imagination and a can-do attitude. The special effects work by bus company night shift manager Pete, working from scratch with instructions from the internet, are very impressive. I've worn one of the alien heads from the film's sequel and his, whilst not as pretty, are more manipulable. Set design work by Luc's grandfather, Ray, is also pretty good given the budget and materials available, easily communicating the idea of being aboard the Nostromo.

Comparisons between the buses and spaceships highlight the most salient point here. Alien is about blue collar transport workers. In a future era, these would be exactly the kind of people crewing the Nostromo and its ilk. They may be playing Ripley et al, but Sigourney Weaver and her fellow cast members were playing them. There's a sense here that they're reclaiming their story.

The group's passion for the story sadly does not translate into a willingness to put in the hard work required to learn lines, to the great frustration of hard-working director (and bus company day shift manager) Dave. His wife Lydia (Luc's mum) works hard in the role of Ripley and has definite stage presence, but others are less reliable. "You know all your lines. You just don't know when to say the," Dave tells them at one point.

Can this intrepid band get it all right n the night?

Harvey and Kummer's documentary, a popular choice at Frightfest 2020, does a great job of capturing the personalities within the group and exploring the way they interact. Nothing is taken too seriously - there's plenty of teasing within the group itself - but respect is shown for the effort that has gone into all this. We are not here to laugh at their creation but to share in the humour they have brought to it. When cast members mock a reproduction alien egg in a Forbidden Planet store, comparing it negatively to their own, this seems entirely fair - it's just a soulless piece of merchandise, whereas their has presence and restores the magic of the story.

As the film builds towards the big night, nerves begin to fray. Cast members swig from bottles of cheap whisky on the bus into London. This is the big time, their first real experience of stardom. The last part of the film contains a condensed version of the play as it went down, and it's an experience you won't want to miss.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2020
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Alien On Stage packshot
The story of the Dorset Bus Drivers whose amateur dramatics group created a serious stage adaptation of the science fiction horror classic Alien and ended up performing in London's West End.

Director: Danielle Kummer; Lucy Harvey.

Year: 2020

Runtime: 66 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Frightfest 2020

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