Art is a collision of ambition, actuality and audience.
Every year, an amateur dramatics group comprising employees of the Wiltshire and Dorset Bus Company stages a Christmas show for charity – but one year, their young writer Luc Hayward decided that he wanted to move on from their usual pantomime scenarios to a far more ambitious film adaptation. Kill Bill (2003), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Tombstone (1993) were under consideration, but Luc settled on Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). After a year’s preparation, the show was unfurled at the Allendale Community Centre in Wimborne, Dorset, before small, not overly enthusiastic audiences who were expecting something more akin to Aladdin or Robin Hood. However, friends Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer travelled from London to catch two of the four performances, falling head over heels for the production, and were instrumental in getting it invited, improbably, for a one-off performance at the London Leicester Square Theatre. Alien On Stage is Harvey and Kummer’s affectionate documentary tracking the show’s transition to the West End where, against all obstacles – and in part because of them – it finally found its perfect audience.
“We’re bus drivers,” comments Jason Hill (who plays Captain Dallas), “We’re allowed to cock things up. We always do.” This cuts to the essence of the production, whose bizarrely out of place Dorset intonations (apart from Mike Rustici, whose faux-American accent for Parker is somehow even more out of place), non-committal performances and DIY special effects all become part of what makes the show so infectiously hilarious. As this documentary reveals, a great deal of hard work went into the show, with Pete Lawford painstakingly building all the props himself, and the cast struggling – and often failing – to learn their lines between long work shifts on the buses. Yet for all the team’s aspirations to go beyond their roots and craft something more grandly cinematic, in fact what they make remains very much in the pantomimic tradition. Still, it is precisely that mismatched translation of Ridley Scott, Dan O’Bannon and HR Giger’s sci-fi horror vision into the language of am-dram stage work that makes their production – highlights of which are shown in the documentary’s last third – uniquely entertaining.
At the same time, much like Ridley Scott’s film, the documentary is a celebration of working men and women co-operating against all odds to get their alien out. The various realities getting in the way of the production, the DIY tactics required by a limited budget and the peculiarities of the cast – including their unconventional approach to line readings and acting in general – hybridise, before the right crowd, to birth a magical coup de théâtre. Watching all this come together, Harvey and Kummer’s own audience, no less than those sitting in the Leicester Square Theatre, may be left unsure whether they are laughing with or at the production and its performers – but either way, this dramatic company is delighted with the way their lo-fi labour of love is finally received. “That’s what comes of being an amateur,” as Luc’s father – and the show’s director – Dave Mitchell points out. “You get to get away with it.” Alien On Stage offers a behind-the-scenes look into just how that happens, casting the personnel behind it as a crew lost in space, yet finding their way to unexpected on-stage triumph.
strap: Lucy Harvey & Danielle Kummer’s documentary Alien On Stage affectionately tracks an amateur production of Alien from Dorset to the West End
© Anton Bitel