REVIEW: Alien on Stage (Fantasia 2021)
If someone says to you, “Alien can be funny to watch,” keep your head cool. The remark might just be an abbreviated reference to the stage version from an am-dram group, or the subject of Alien on Stage, rather than a diss at the classic sci-fi horror. Hopefully. Otherwise it’s about time they upgrade their tastes.
But let’s warp back to the main point here. Yes, you aren’t dreaming, there is a no-projector-needed version of the 1979 film that sent one killing machine with a strange form and Sigourney Weaver at her most badass into filmdom’s hall of fame. This isn’t the most bonkers detail. Most of the minds behind Alien on Stage are creatives, or essentials to the production, once their shifts at Dorset’s bus company Morebus are over. Some of them have seen Alien, but they are in the “once, or twice” crowd. All craftsmanship involved is of and from love. The sensations that helped burn Alien to memory, mainly relating to fear, will have an awkward, not-quite-blockbuster spin to them now. Perhaps the most prevalent thing directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer would capture while trailing the bus-centric Nostromo crew from Allerdale Centre to Leicester Square Theatre is an awareness that everything is a hair’s length from success or disaster. Case in point: Dave Mitchell, the production’s skipper, said folks should “Come along and see this show, it’s a great horror!” — but with notable emphasis on “horror” and a rather memorable worried laughter.
One might say Alien on Stage’s search for glory is not so different from that of The Room on this side of the Atlantic, which was captured in a book and adapted for the screen in 2017. Agreeable, if arguably reductive in this case. Seeing it in the light that’s already there is to prime yourself to register the production’s bedlams and give yourself permission to take the mickey out of it. There are reasons to do so — what with the budget allowing very limited performing-arts magic to happen and clear spots where reach exceeds grasp — but that doesn’t mean you need to act on them. To just focus on the jokey side, like the way John Elliott would describe his and his mate Mike Rustici’s roles as “My part is Brett, he’s laid-back, which suits me because I’m accused of being laid-back. [gestures at Mike] And you’re just as mouthy as Parker in the film, so you’re suited for that part,” can guide you away from certain facts more deserving of attention — like how everyone’s passion is true despite the loosest of links to theatre, or how the oft-dismissed arts holds large-scale wonders.
The most observable of the latter is the sheer flexibility of the creative material. For this case, bringing Alien to the stage realises many interesting out-the-box scenarios, such as what if a film gets adapted into a play, or, going more granular, what if the android Ash is now a woman. There’s also another wonder, the ability to turn the everyday into the epicentre of the day. As whimsy and capital-A-Amateur things can get, the play is a vehicle for staff members of a bus company to be beyond that. They can be stars for a couple of hours, be heroes in their own story by being in this documentary, or be explorers of out-there artistic prompts. It should be noted, however, that there is a scarcity of footage showing who’s who prior to their time as creatives with quaking guts and wracking nerves. Alien on Stage is some surprising sunshine in these harsh times, from first line to final report, a joyful documentary to watch and a neat exhibit of artistry proving that the world can be fun.