FANTASIA FEST 2021 REVIEW! Alien On Stage is a documentary about exactly what the title implies: a theatrical stage production of the hit film Alien. A group of (primarily) bus drivers put on a pantomime every year for charity, with them helming a comedic, musical Robin Hood as their previous show. Directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer document the amateur production but not for its hometown debut, which was a flop.
See, of the few people that did see it during that run, one of them started a Kickstarter to bring the adaption to London’s famous West End. Now, story writer Luc, his mom Lydia, who plays Ripley, and his stepfather, Dave, who’s directing the production, must fight through nerves, actors forgetting their lines, and missed technical cues (i.e., a sound effect does not go off at the right time or the lights don’t dim properly) in order to present the world with their most ambitious production to date. Do they succeed, or does it all end in embarrassment?
The first 20 minutes or so of Alien On Stage are kind of dull. The filmmakers interview the core group who make up the cast and crew of the stage play of Alien. But proper introductions are not there, so understanding who these folks are and their part in the production take a while to piece together fully. And because it is just one or two people interviewed at a time without much context, the film does not engage the audience right away. This is too bad as the opening uses the music and text of Alien juxtaposed over its own footage to parallel the two. And the segues are handled via a model bus flying through space, which is brilliant and cute. So, parts of the beginning showing an energy that is not always present.
“A group of [primarily] bus drivers put on…the stage play of Alien.“
However, once the groundwork is out of the way, and the bus drivers turned amateur stagehands must work their magic in the West End, things pick up considerably. For one, as the pressure of their debut bears on all involved, their true creative spark begins to show. And that is what Alien On Stage highlights perfectly. While the bus drivers take the play seriously, they aren’t taking themselves seriously and just want to have fun in a creative way. For example, the way Pete, a fellow bus driver, creates the Xenomorph eggs and costume, and the materials he uses are thriftiness and ingenuity at its finest.
Secondly, once the cast and crew are all introduced, and the film spends more time with them, they are all likable. Even when they are obviously feeling the pressure, everyone clearly cares for each other, and that love is on full display for the majority of the runtime. When Dave is explaining to the lighting technician, Gen, why they needed the house lights, despite her testing the system at the new theater, they are both agitated. But, their pre-existing friendship means that they’re never angry with one another. That balance is crucial to the film’s success.
Alien On Stage stumbles in the beginning, but once it finds its feet, it is worth a watch. The core group of bus drivers is a caring, supportive bunch that will win audiences over (almost) instantly. Directors Harvey and Kummer ably cut between the interviews, the preparation for, and reception of the play in a way that makes audiences feel like they are right, a part of the action. True creativity is not always found in creating something new but figuring out ingenious solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and these people are very creative.
"…true creativity is not always found in creating something new but figuring out ingenious solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles..."