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'Return to the Forbidden Planet': Shakespeare's Forgotten Rock 'n' Roll Masterpiece

The LUU Musical Theatre Society has opened a brand-new season with a bang, bringing two hours of otherworldly Shakespearean fun to the stage in the Riley Smith Theatre. Their first production of the season, ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’, was an imaginative piece directed by Kate Matthews and produced by Louisa Walsh that ran for three consecutive days (16-18 November 2023) at LUU.

As I was given the opportunity to see this play last minute, the only piece of information I had going in was that it was a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's ‘The Tempest’ set on a spaceship, accompanied by 1950s and '60s classic rock numbers, which left me equally confused and excited. There’s hardly anything more entertaining than a fun musical take on a classic, and all expectations were exceeded in this refreshing production.

Right from the start, the audience engagement was incredibly creative, and we suddenly found ourselves aboard the Starship ‘Albatross’, with flight attendants among the rows of seats guiding us through a thorough safety demonstration for our flight. The cast managed to capture the attention of the audience and make them laugh from the very beginning.

Photo credits: @milliessphotos on Instagram

The musical follows the crew aboard the Starship ‘Albatross’ as the ship is drawn towards the Planet D’Illyria. Captain Tempest and his crew meet the long-ago shunned Doctor Prospero, his beautiful young daughter Miranda, and their robot Ariel. However, mayhem unfolds when Miranda falls in love with both Tempest and Ariel, leaving chaos in her wake as well as the broken heart of the ship’s chef Cookie, who harbours a secret crush on her and does everything he can to become the object of her affections. While the crew is tangled up in romantic drama, the threat of a malicious space creature looms over the ship.

The cast showcased brilliant talent, with Louis Dixon’s Captain Tempest playing a classic arrogant and righteous sci-fi captain, Snjólaug Vera Jóhannsdóttir portraying a perfect girl-next-door in love in Miranda, and Joshua Phillips’ Doctor Prospero showing us a misunderstood genius whose mysterious past starts catching up to him. The science officer, played by Vicky Katzarov, stood out for her multilayered portrayal of a female scientist who is new to the crew and constantly underestimated by the captain, which culminated in their breathtaking duet of ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’. Poppy Glaze blew everyone away with her comedic wit and brilliant portrayal of the ship’s chef Cookie, who unrequitedly pines after Miranda and desperately tries to win her over. Additionally, Romy Rendigs was hilarious and believable as Ariel the robot, adding even more witty elements to the plot with her animated facial expressions and monotone voice.

The musical had a well-rounded array of classic rock numbers from the ‘50s and ‘60s, including but not limited to ‘Good Vibrations’, ‘Wipeout’, and ‘Great Balls of Fire’. These regular and sometimes completely random musical intermissions aided in making the characters and the plot even more spontaneous and entertaining, thanks to the brilliant work of musical director Matt Stanley and assistant musical director Bruce Hygate. The dance numbers, directed by Annabel Martin, were energetic and joyful, with ‘Shake, Rattle, and Roll’ being a standout thanks to its high-energy Jive-style choreography.

Of course, nothing ties a musical together like good scenography and stage effects, which left the audience completely dazzled with the combination of the spaceship’s colourful stage design and amazing lighting effects, courtesy of the LUU Backstage Society team, including Fraser White, Kayla Savery, Tom McMillan, Leo Pereira, Megan Murphy, and Jess Simons.

The LUU Musical Theatre society is currently performing their sold-out second musical of the semester, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, so if you’re interested in checking out their future work and keeping up with all their updates, you can find them on Instagram as @luumusicaltheatre.

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