Tag Archives: John Plews

Return to the Forbidden Planet – 3 Stars


Return to the Forbidden Planet

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 16th May 2018


“undeniably great fun, supported by consistently strong performances”


The Intergalactic Starship Albatross, with Captain Tempest at its helm, is on a standard interplanetary scientific survey mission, when it is pulled onto a planet not even marked on their cosmic charts. Here they find Doctor Prospero and his daughter Miranda, and discover Prospero’s secret formula for telegenesis, a dangerous invention that aims to be able to create matter from brain power alone. So ensues a cult tale of love, trickery, deception and monsters.

The musical by Bob Carlton, which won the 1990 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, is a well crafted mixture of fifties and sixties pop anthems and Shakespearean text. The musical is loosely based on the 1950s film ‘Forbidden Planet’, which was based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ but the piece borrows lines from across Shakespeare’s oeuvre: “Two beeps or not two beeps, that is the question” was a particular favourite with the audience. The word play is intelligent and witty, and we don’t lose a syllable of it thanks to the cast’s clear and lively delivery.

The actor-musician cast is consistently strong all round, deftly switching from vocals to saxophones and trumpets, led by musical director Rhiannon Hopkins. Simon Oskarsson’s fantastic robot on roller skates Ariel, is the standout performance of the production, a detailed and committed characterisation full of energy, playfulness and wit. The evil Gloria played by Ellie Ann Lowe is also particularly strong – slick, fierce and effortless, something which other members of the cast could learn from as there are a few too many moments where it is clear how hard this cast are working. Certainly playing instruments, singing, dancing and acting is no easy feat, but the cast need to make it look easy, something I’m sure they will achieve as they settle into the run. In fact there isn’t a weak link across the cast in terms of talent, though at times certain performances could be a little more streamlined, the brilliant energy levels just a little more focused.

A few things need ironing out – there’s the odd technical issue and clumsy musical moment but the audience is so onside that these moments are utterly forgivable. The production is brimming with wit and silliness, no desire to take itself too seriously, something which is echoed in the design – neon blue space suits and yellow and purple set designed by Amy Yardley.

This production is undeniably great fun, supported by consistently strong performances, and you will be sure to leave with a smile on your face.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Darren Bell


Return to the Forbidden Planet

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 17th June



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com




Review of Top Hat – 5 Stars


Top Hat

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 15th December 2017


“Clifton and Lay embody the charm and sophistication of the era.”


In this classic dance musical comedy, we meet Broadway star Jerry Travers and follow him in his attempt to win the affections of socialite Dale Tremont. Ovation presents the London fringe premiere of a musical that has been delighting audiences since the release of the celebrated 1935 film version starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Joshua Lay and Joanne Clifton are a fantastic pairing as Jerry and Dale. The chemistry between the two is undeniable and watching their love story unfold is a delight. The shoes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers were always going to be big ones to fill, but Clifton and Lay do them justice and embody the charm and sophistication of the era.

From the principals to the ensemble, the rest of the cast’s performances are of a high standard. Much of the comedy comes from theatre producer Horace Hardwick (Darren Benedict), his valet, Bates (Samuel Haughton), and fashion designer Alberto Beddini (Matthew James Willis). Ellen Verenieks should also be mentioned for her confident portrayal of Horace’s wife, Madge.

The limited space available is used very effectively, with Upstairs at the Gatehouse making use of traverse staging, as opposed to its usual thrust layout. Some of the action takes place on a raised platform at one end of the stage, which can be seen well from all angles and is a good addition. However, director John Plews does not overuse it and the rest of the stage is covered well, particularly during dance numbers.

The production’s choreography is slick, particularly, and unsurprisingly, the tap dancing. Looking at the space available, you’d be forgiven for wondering how the dancers would be able to pull off big, show stopping numbers, but the staging actually works to their advantage. The audience is treated to an “up-close and personal” experience and can truly appreciate the details in the choreography that is, indeed, show stopping.

Top Hat is a timeless classic and any production following the film and successful West End run has a lot to live up to. This fringe production does not disappoint and is packed full of stunning choreography and classic songs such as “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. Charming from start to finish.


Reviewed by Emily K Neal



Top Hat

is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 28th January 2018



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com