Alien On Stage follows the amateur theater group Paranoid Dramatics as they attempt to adapt Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic to the community theater stage. By day, the players are an unassuming group of British bus drivers from a rural town in Dorset. Abandoning their usual charity fundraiser fare of family musicals and Christmas pantomimes, they head for the best homemade facsimile of deep space they can muster, and attempt something quite literally from another world.
Having briefly considered a few other popular films, the group settles on Alien, due to its smaller cast and limited sets. The crew’s aspiring screenwriter, Luc, is excited to adapt his favorite movie, and the production becomes something of a family affair. Luc’s stepfather is tasked with directing, and his mother is cast as Ripley. The no nonsense Lydia is a logical leading lady, but her husband Dave is a former military man who has far more organizational skill than he does creative experience. With friends and coworkers filling in the rest of the cast and crew, the group’s radical attempt to shake up amateur theater for a good cause….doesn’t. An audience of twenty is considered a good night for ticket sales.
Enter the documentary’s directors, Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer. Having gotten word of the daffy goings in Dorset from a friend, the women become the production’s biggest boosters. The pair bring a busload of people from London, which leads to a devoted fan club. A successful crowdfunding campaign brings the Paranoid Dramatics and their makeshift Xenomorph all the way to a one night engagement in London’s West End.
This is the first directorial effort for both Harvey and Kummer, and in many ways the documentary Alien On Stage is just as rough around the edges as the production it chronicles. The first half of the film is rather slow going, as the pair makes introductions to each member of the troupe. They’re not great at coaxing revealing answers out of their subjects, and it is a stroke of luck that the film is filled with dryly colorful characters who clearly have great fondness for one another.
Despite the filmmakers’ best efforts, the cast refuse to be produced or packaged to give pert, narratively convenient answers. No one here has any grand stage dreams (aside from possibly Luc and the friend he roped into playing the Xenomorph), and several members of the cast aren’t even fans of the original film. No matter how annoyed they get at one another as they prepare for their once in a lifetime debut, any attempt at prodding for mean spirited drama is dismissed with a shake of the head or a well timed smoke break.
They’re delightfully, deadly earnest in trying to do the best they can with the resources they have, an Alien made to scale. If there’s any member of the crew who best encapsulates the spirit of this thing, it might be Pete, the night bus supervisor turned SFX wizard. He hopes they can embody what “Ridley Scott would have wanted to do but in a more basic format.” He’s also somewhat of the hero of the day, cleverly making do with household items and online tutorials to craft a Xenomorph skull from a bike helmet or accomplishing the famous centerpiece of the alien bursting forth from a victim effect with a rubber appliance and fishing poles. The illusions may look a touch arts and crafts up close, but the effect under stage lights would make any micro budget B movie maker proud.
We follow the crew through blown lines, untested effects and a general disinterest in taking the production seriously enough to go fully off book as the troupe approaches their scheduled Leicester Square playdate. Despite the worrying lack of rehearsal, the biggest set of stakes this film has might be what the sold out audience will make of this homespun internet sensation in the flesh. The biggest off note the movie strikes is how utterly giddy the filmmakers seem at their own cleverness in creating viral status, and their odd tendency to want to share in the day in a manner that isn’t precisely theirs to claim. By the final third of Alien On Stage, it’s near impossible not to be charmed by this ragtag crew, and it’s a bit nerve wracking to think of the very real possibility that the internet crowd might laugh at the Dramatics, rather than with them.
Including some smartly placed Go Pro footage from inside the Xenomorph helmet, we watch as even the bitter hearts of the online commentariat can’t help but enjoy themselves. The crowd shouts and squeals and feeds the actors their missed lines. The audience clearly having much more participatory fun with Alien than even the most perfectly done holiday pantomime.
The Paranoid Dramatics certainly didn’t put on the most polished stage play. Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer didn’t make a perfect documentary. Yet, both the performance and the film documenting it are surprisingly affecting. The power of passion projects to enrich our lives in warm and unexpected ways. The importance of taking a break from our everyday lives to just have fun and make the best of whatever we’ve got. Rather than the process, it’s the spirit of the thing that will make even the most jaded of viewers find Alien On Stage to be a real chestburster.
WICKED RATING: 6.5/10