Plan 9 From Outer Space: The Musical by Masquerade Theatre Company
Celebrating its 30th year of existence, Masquerade Theatre Company is a new group for this reviewer, as is the Miskin Theatre venue (not the easiest to access given the circuitous route to its entrance, direction provided by previously experienced audience members).
Only the programme and website acknowledgement of their Kent Drama Awards 2019 give a clue that this is an amateur company, suggesting that the group aspire to professional or fringe standards and status, which were in many ways achieved in this production.
A musical version of reputedly the worst film in cinema history, made by the worst director ever, Programme notes indicate that this was very much a labour of love on the part of director/choreographer Rosie Owen. Although periodically revived in fringe productions and apparently by American High Schools, the show has never achieved the status of other sci-fi pastiches such as the Rocky Horror Show or Little Shop of Horrors. This may partly be due to the fact that none of the songs (arranged in appropriate 50s style by Tom Burgess for a combo of five) are sufficiently memorable after first hearing, even if redolent of the period. Further, this is not just a send up of the genre, but of appallingly bad examples of that genre in terms of script, direction, acting and production values. Ironically, it takes great skill to be deliberately and knowingly bad, from which much of the humour of this show derives.
The apparently random nature of gender blind casting for this is very much in keeping with the original director’s use of whoever happened to be available for his movie (including at one point his chiropractor) which included multiple roles for a number of the actors. The set design by Danny Waters was impressive, making excellent use of the available space. Movement of fencing and trucks allowed for flexibility while maintaining a kind of Blue Peter build quality. The fact that no effort was made to disguise the cheapness of materials used or ineptness of scene changes just added to the fun.
Plan 9 From Outer Space was very much an ensemble performance, with all the actors fully committed to the awfulness of their script and there were occasions when this might have been pointed to greater effect. The small number of opening night line insecurities and slightly delayed entries might well have been exploited to suggest that these were all part of the essential shoddiness of the show. Although there were some strong vocal performances (Helen Waters as Paula Trent being a notable example) variable quality in song delivery was entirely in keeping with the overall less than high-end standard.
Dance moves were uncomplicated and smartly executed, with some clever touches, such as the way in which the insufficient supply of semaphore style flags was choreographed for the dancer affected.
On the technical front, there was some impressive animation work as well as film projection which appeared to have been lifted from original black & white footage. Unfortunately there was some loss of individual voices in the mix of company songs, although overall quality was good.
Plan 9 From Outer Space was overall an enjoyable performance of a show which, while perhaps not being the best in its class, still has much to recommend its attendance.
Review by Robin Kelly
To find out more about Masquerade Theatre Company visit their website.