SXSW 2021: Alien on Stage

It started with a family of bus drivers. Every year, a dramatics group in Dorset produced an extremely amateur pantomime for the holidays. It’s a tradition in England, for families to perform these participatory pantomimes. Year after year, the tradition began to grow stale for the maestro motorists. That’s when the crew’s ingenuity set in: why not create something that has not been done before? They set to work adapting the beloved science fiction horror romp Alien (1979) to the stage.

From bus drivers to space truckers, the Dorset ensemble created something truly unique. The operation was meant to be a small charity benefit. They created wobbly sets out of used materials, sourced costumes from online, and charmingly, employed only fellow bus drivers and their family members as their actors. The dedication to an amateur spirit of creation is deeply felt here. The only problem is that when they finally staged the production, nobody showed up.

That is, until documentarians Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer happened upon the show, joining some friends from London for one of its ill-fated showings. The crew of motorists initially took it all very seriously. They played Alien very straight on the stage. But our enterprising filmmakers saw something else there. They went out and created a Kickstarter. The show picked up attention and was seen by all the right people. Something remarkable happened: the show landed a spot on stage in London’s West End, at the prestigious Leicester Square theater. In London’s cultural center for the arts, everyone can hear you scream.

What’s truly remarkable about this story are the people involved. This is the documentary of workers creating profoundly engaging fan art. They have connected precisely to what people love about Alien. There is some camp involved, sure, there’s a lot of fun in watching these absurd actors on an acclaimed stage. But there is also an earnestness to their mission. Alien on Stage beautifully captures their journey, from small ensemble to regional success story.

They raised a load of money for charity. The workers at Leicester Square called it their favorite show performed at their theater. An American High School soon went very viral by staging their own Alien production. This is a documentary for the hobbyists. For the people who believe in the art they consume and reflecting that back into the world. For the workers who help us get from place to place and then move us beyond words in their free time.

Crucially, Alien on Stage meets the performance where it stands. It is a fan creation of a fan creation of one of cinema’s most enduring works. It is also a heartfelt and authentically crafted document of workers with a great dream. Alien on Stage is not only the filming of the stage show. Most of the runtime is spent in the planning stages. It investigates the creation of the play and the nuances of how such a thing comes to be. Once it is showtime, the documentary remains dynamic and deeply entrenched in the production. It flutters between the highlights of the show and the mechanics of what’s going on backstage. It is a smart production in and of itself, a fantastic celebration of fan culture expressed exuberantly, with love and passion. Alien on Stage, like the production that inspired it, is a must see event for every fan of the Ridley Scott masterpiece.

8/10

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Dad, husband, editor of thetwingeeks.com

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