The ambitious plan to make a low-budget stage production of the classic movie Alien is the subject of a new documentary – review here.
“There’s room for improvement, let’s put it that way,” says the director of the stage adaptation of Alien during a rehearsal.
Earlier in the documentary Alien On Stage, one of his cast members has trouble remembering his lines. He’s not off script just yet and it’s become a small issue, a cause for remark from his director as they press on through rehearsals. The thing is, he’s having to fit this all in around his job as a bus driver, and even then performing in the play is having to be prioritised behind the law degree he’s studying towards. He’s on his sixth and final year of the degree and can’t afford to put anything ahead of it.
Perhaps the reason that Alien On Stage works so well as a documentary is that this point is never a source of any great conflict. There’s no blow out argument, no recasting, no storming out. There’s not even a raised voice or cross word.
In fact, there’s not a great deal of conflict to Alien On Stage at all. If you particularly need one, I suppose you could argue that the story is in conflict with reality, which has been a bit bleak recently. That a ray of sunshine like this can fight through the clouds is a battle fought and won in itself.
Debuting directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer’s documentary picks up with an amateur dramatics group from Dorset who have decided to eschew panto for a year and go with a slightly more leftfield choice; an adaptation of the 1979 film Alien. You know, the Ridley Scott one. While it fails to strike a note locally, it catches eyes elsewhere and ends up with an unlikely booking in a London theatre. The documentary is essentially a snapshot of the unexpected story playing out, and an insight into the joy and excitement experienced by the people who made it happen.
It’s about a group of people who work for a Dorset-based bus company (with a family component at play, to boot). Something I really like about this film is that it made a fool of me. The more lovely and pleasant the story was, the more tense I got, bracing myself for the argument, the twist, the sneering London audience, the something nasty. The foundations laid early in the documentary do a great job of bonding you with the subjects of the film, which made this writer feel protective. The something nasty never comes.
That’s not to say that there aren’t low points of the experience. The low turnout for their opening night is not shown to be a disaster, but it feels very relatable. I think most of us have worked hard on something only to find our work disappearing into an abyss where no one is interested in it. Here, it’s wisely granted little screen time as setbacks are less significant to this story than the successes.
The closest we get, perhaps, to a darkness is the difficulty experienced by the play’s young writer. He explains to us that he has written for a long time but struggles to make any professional progress as he’s in the wrong place. Films don’t get made in Dorset. It makes you question how much talent is scattered about the country that we’re missing out on.
Alien On Stage is good for the spirit. It’s a film with its feet firmly planted in reality. There’s the lost rehearsal time because the space is locked when it isn’t meant to be, then more time lost because the cast are gossiping, then someone almost misses a line because they’re making the tea. It’s a hoot.
Perhaps my favourite moment comes in an interview with the effects supervisor of the play and the stuntwoman, a husband and wife duo with a well-practiced double-act manner. What starts as a discussion about making the props soon turns into a passive aggressive story about an incident where some green paint got on the carpet. I’m not quite sure I understand why this is my favourite moment of the film. There is something delightful about the absurd efforts that have gone into fashioning a DIY recreation of Alien but running into trouble by spilling some paint in the house, and then having it come up in conversation afterwards every time the show is mentioned, probably forever. You get the impression that they will never talk to anyone about this show without the carpet incident coming up. That is life, and it’s an element of life that Alien On Stage is able to effectively communicate.
The documentary is a little scrappy, much like the play. The end is a showcase for the play, but includes so much of it you almost wonder whether they might have been better served featuring the play as a separate entity. It’s fun, but there’s just a bit too much of it. The documentary is about the people more than it is the content of Alien, so that might be why its enjoyable but feels of secondary importance.
Alien On Stage, then, is a joyful documentary that tells the story of some lovely people doing something interesting, achieving something brilliant and really creating a lot of joy doing it. What a lovely thing that is to see happen. It’s a tribute to the importance of art, of the impact of a big Hollywood movie and small am-dram production (that comes out, we should note, looking quite wonderful). A heartening and joyful experience, Alien On Stage is the feel-good film 2020 desperately needs.
Alien On Stage played at FrightFest this past weekend. When we have UK release details, we’ll let you know.
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