Indie Memphis 2021 Fest Review: ALIEN ON STAGE, Ode to DIY'ers Everywhere
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” — Alien tagline.
Eight simple, monosyllabic words, eight words that promised unimaginable horrors and terrors in 1979, except Ridley Scott, H.R. Giger, and Dan O’Bannon imagined them for contemporary and future, unborn audiences. Collectively, Scott, Giger, and O’Bannon crafted more than just a science-fiction/horror classic imitated countless times since, but never equaled. It’s not controversial to state that the release of Alien more than 40 years ago radically redefined a sub-genre, “Before Alien” and “After Alien.”
While most of us are content revisiting Alien and its various sequels, spin-offs, and media tie-ins, the good people of Dorset, England, most of them bus drivers, engineers, or office workers, decided that rewatching Alien for the 357th time wasn’t enough. Instead of putting on an annual, holiday-themed show for charity, the "Paranoid Dramatics," an amateur troupe led by erstwhile director David Mitchell, went the Waiting for Guffman route and put on a one-time “Alien on Stage” production.
Delivered with slightly more enthusiasm than resources or technical skill, the one-night-only production in Dorset failed to draw a significant audience of any kind, leading to all-around disappointment. Twenty people showed up, among them co-directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer. Enchanted by the Paranoid Dramatics’s deliberately lo-fi, low-budget approach to recreating Alien (on stage), Harvey and Kummer stepped in as erstwhile producers and process documentarians, helping the 'little troupe that could' produce an even bigger, more polished version of “Alien on Stage,” except this time with a full audience in a professional setting at the Leicester Square Theatre in London’s West End.
Harvey and Kummer open the documentary with the original “Alien on Stage” production, presumably relying on home video taken by Mitchell and other participants, before switching less than halfway through to the second, bigger production. The overall shape and scope of the production don’t change. It’s still scripted by Luc Hayward, Mitchell’s son, and stars Mitchell’s wife, Lydia, as Ripley, along with the same cast and crew that made the original production a non-success, but with an influx of funds, production values had to increase proportionately.
Between catching the cast haphazardly rehearsing, taking frequent food and smoke breaks, Harvey and Kummer sharpen their focus to the key players, including Mitchell, Lydia, and Luc, but also Peter Lawford, the genial, good-natured props man, costume designer, and all-around techie who creates handmade versions of the face-hugger, the chest-burster, and a full-sized Xenomorph, relying on a combination of YouTube tutorials, ingenuity, and guesswork to convert them from ideas drawn from the film to fully viable, on-stage reality.
Along the long and winding way, Harvey and Kummer take a few moments here and there to offer up glimpses into the troupe’s otherwise quotidian lives as bus drivers, engineers, and office workers. We also get all-too-brief glimpses into their sometimes warm, sometimes prickly personalities before the inevitable switch back to rehearsals, prepping for the big day, and the bus ride to the big city (London) where the troupe turns into everyday tourists for a day before spending the next day at the theater.
Harvey and Kummer smartly leave the actual production for the electrifying third act, mixing you-are-there camerawork behind the audience and on the stage to deliver the second-best-thing to being there. What might have started as a serious-minded adaptation of a classic film before and during the first production turned into something entirely different, a joyful celebration not only of the film but of the participants and the production itself.
That raises the question of whether the Paranoid Dramatics are in on the joke, but the cheers, claps, and laughs from the audience as they hit their marks, say their lines in deadpan fashion, or use crude, home-made props to deliver an ersatz, analog Alien experience are sufficient to make the film a worthwhile experience.
Alien on Stage
- Lucy Harvey
- Danielle Kummer
- Jason Hill
- Lydia Hayward
- Jacqui Roe