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Fantasia 2021: Alien On Stage Review

August 7, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Alien On Stage
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Fantasia 2021: Alien On Stage Review  

Directed by: Danielle Kummer & Lucy Harvey

Dave Mitchell – Self – Director
Lydia Hayward – Self / Lieutenant Ripley
Peter Lawford – Self – Creature Designer / Special Effects Artist
Luc Hayward – Self – Writer / Sound / Costume Design
Jacqui Roe – Self / Science Officer Ash
John Elliot – Self / Brett
Carolyn White – Self / Lambert
Mike Rustici – Self / Parker
Jason Hill – Self / Captain Dallas
Susan Baird – Self / Ash Stunt Double
Scott Douglas – Self / Kane / Xenomorph
Penny Thorne – Self / Voice of Mother

Running Time: 83 minutes
Not Rated

There’s something unique and almost unexplainable about being a theatre person. Everything about the art of being on stage, mounting productions, putting on a show – it’s something that you never quite get out of your system. It’s the reason even a guy like me, whose stage life never progressed beyond high school, still considers himself a “theater kid.” I don’t have much if any tangible relation with those who are dedicated to it as adults, but the passion of stage life never dies.

That passion is exactly what makes Alien On Stage such a delight. Danielle Kummer & Lucy Harvey’s documentary, which is part of the Fantasia International Film Festival’s 2021 lineup, captures the essence of what it’s like to put on a show when you’re far from the big productions of Broadway. But not just any show, and not just any group. No, in this case we’re looking at a troupe of bus drivers from Dorset in England who decided to mount a stage take on Ridley Scott’s Alien. And Kummer & Harvey’s production is a charming exploration of how far a can-do attitude and love for you craft can take you.

And in this case, it takes them remarkably far. While Kummer and Harvey were pretty clearly part of the initial audience due to curiosity about the audacity of staging a local production of a gorgeously iconic sci-fi/horror classic, they quickly recognize there’s something special here and the film captures that. It comes out in the warmth with which the cast talks about what they’re doing, a diversion from their usual pantomimes but still done for charity. We follow them along as the first performance is a bit of a flop, but the sheer “Wait, what?” value of the idea leads to interest and a Kickstarter, which is followed by a remarkable underdog all the way to London’s fames West End.

Well before we even get to that point though, we’re already hopelessly charmed by this group. We learn how writer Luc, the son of the show’s Ripley in Lydia, put the script together because he was tired of pantomimes and wanted to try something new. We see Dave, the director of the production and Lydia’s husband, guiding the group through rehearsals with the mix of weary cynicism and honest love for the show and his cast that seems destined to make magic. We see how set and creature designer Peter achieving remarkable results in the monsters with a nothing budget, YouTube videos, and some creative DIY ingenuity.

And most of all, we see how much this small group of bus drivers love what they’re doing and enjoy each other’s company. It’s that essential element that makes us want to root for them and hope that they succeed, and Kummer & Harvey take great pains to make it appear on screen. The directors do a few little visual motifs that add to the feel of it being a fan’s documentary, like putting occasional details on the screen in computer text that mimics Ridley Scott’s classic.

For most of the film, the actual play itself remains largely off-screen outside of some often-awkward rehearsals. It isn’t until the end at the big West End show that we see much of the finished product, which is in front of a big house who don’t know these people and aren’t obligated to be kind if they aren’t inclined? Is the stage production any good from an objective critical point of view? Well, that’s not really the point. This isn’t a documentary about the staging of Hamilton or The Lion King; it’s about what the passion of amateur theater lovers can accomplish. And by that measure, any way you look at it, both this weird, fearless production and the documentary that captures it are a resounding success.

The Fantasia International Film Festival takes place in person and online from August 5th through August 25th

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Alien On Stage is one of the most feel-good documentaries you're likely to have seen in a while. Directors Danielle Kummer & Lucy Harvey let their wild admiration for the Dorset bus drivers bringing Ridley Scott's film to the stage shine through, and it's an infectious feeling. It's a better underdog story than anything Hollywood's done lately and an enchanting way for any theater kid or movie-lover to spend an hour and 20-something minutes.