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SXSW 2021: Aliens on Stage Review

Everyone loves a heartwarming underdog story, and this celebratory tale of how amateur theatre group, Paranoid Dramatics’, rose to West End fame is definitely a surprising highlight from this year’s virtual South by Southwest festival. This documentary charts how a group of Dorset bus drivers wonderfully brought Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror masterpiece Alien to the stage.

Directed by Danielle Kummer and Lucy Harvey, Aliens on Stage follows the escapades of Paranoid Dramatics in Wimborne, Dorset as they decide to ditch their usual community pantomime productions and instead opt for something a little left field. After much deliberation, aspiring screenwriter Luc decides to opt for Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Aliens, because what could go wrong?!

Kummer and Harvey follow many of the am-dram group’s chaotic rehearsals, with former military commander Dave Mitchell directing the small-town production. It’s honestly all a bit of a shambles really; lines aren’t properly learnt, a few members spend more time at the buffet than practising, while some of the cast don’t even like the film. However prop and special effects man Pete is the real MVP of the show, creating a number of impressive sets and props, including a fully realised Xenomorph, which really brings the production to life.

Unfortunately the DIY adaptation of the beloved film flops, with only a maximum of 20 people watching it on a good night at the Allendale Centre. Nevertheless, the London-based documentary directors who travelled to Dorset to view the play absolutely loved it, describing it as “mad as a box of day-glo frogs” and decided to take a chance on the rag-tag am-dram group. Following a successful fundraising campaign, the group prepare to take their production to London’s Leicester Square Theatre for a one night only show, but can they refine the script, performances and special effects in time?

Unravelling like a real-life Waiting For Guffman, with plenty of The Office-esque talking head interviews, you quickly fall for the quirky cast and the ensuing calamity. Throughout the production’s hilarious highs-and-lows, Dave proves the real heart of the show, particularly as he was so close to losing the will to live! Nonplussed duo Mike and John are equally as hilarious, with their straight-laced descriptions of the behind-the-scenes drama. The am-dram members are hugely self-deprecating but clearly also full of heart, and it’s a real joy to spend time in their company. You really do root for them, hoping beyond hope that they pull of this crazy feat and that it’ll be alright on the night.

With all the tensions and challenges faced in the build up to production, Kummer and Harvey wisely dedicate a large proportion of the second half of the documentary devoted to the production at Leicester Square. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it really is a magical experience to see the hilarious performance fully realised, along with the brilliant reaction of the crowd. There’s so many brilliant standout moments which will leave you laughing out loud – I know I certainly haven’t giggled that much at a documentary in a long time!

Verdict

Hugely endearing and charming in a very British way, Aliens on Stage in an unexpected, feel-good joy – now how do I book a ticket to the next performance?!

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