FrightFest 2020 – ‘Alien on Stage’: A Chestburstingly Heartwarming Journey

Many of you may have heard of the high school in America that performed Alien as its own stage play, garnering a global media buzz that led to universal praise for the cast and crew. However, this was not the first endeavor into transforming Alien from terrifying sci-fi horror to the stage; that honor goes to a group of bus drivers in Dorset, and their captivating journey.

Danielle Kummer and Lucy Harvey

Alien on Stage is the brainchild of co-directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer, with this being both their first-time feature – upon discovering the play’s origins in Wimborne, they absolutely adored it and began the first steps of a journey that would lead to an incredible conclusion for both filmmakers and the troupe. Part of their dedication to the troupe came in the potential they saw in the Amature Dramatics group:

“The show turned out to be the best thing we had ever seen! … after a year of preparations, it was a crying shame that no one else would be able to experience this unique show.”

And so, through the shared adoration of Alien on Stage and an element of luck through a surprise connection, the pair were able to form a bond with the troupe that led them to a goal the Amature Dramatics could never have imagined: a West End debut in the Leicester Square Theatre.

I absolutely loved this documentary – it’s got an incredible heart and represents the strong bonds of community that link our cast; the triptych of Lydia, Dave, and Luc emphasize this connection best, as mother, stepfather, and son embrace the roles of Ripley, theatre director, and scriptwriter. Each have their own reasons for the passion they feel toward the show, but Luc’s is the one that struck me most – he mentions how his ambition of a screenwriting career was shattered when he was told that unless he was in L.A., he simply wouldn’t have a chance – hearing that, you realize the emotional connection that he feels towards the production, essentially his baby that begins to blossom into something monumental.

Jacqui Roe and Lydia Hayward as Ash and Ripley

Every single cast member has their own unique story that feels rich and intimate, recorded by Harvey and Kummer in a way that allows us an intimacy with each individual without feeling intrusive – Scott, who plays Kane and a budding actor, is given his once-in-a-lifetime chance at acting on the West End, while Jason, playing Captain Dallas, grapples with the work-life balance, creating a tension within rehearsals which he ultimately overcomes and finds a refreshing take on the role. Some of the crew, like Pete (Creature Workshop/SFX) displays an incredible artistry at the creation of the multiple monsters we see – his demonstration of an actual, moveable xenomorph tail leaves you in awe when you consider this is a completely new craft for him. Luc’s Grandad Ray similarly displays a brilliant creativity in crafting sets which are refined to the essence of the Nostromo and the Alien ship, from his ideas of plexiglass to give the appearance of an authentically sealed cyrosleep unit remarkable for a complete newcomer.

Watching the Amature Dramatics go from their small village stage to the Leicester Square Theatre is as magical as it is daunting – Harvey and Kummer transmit the anxieties and the pressures that many of the cast and crew, especially director Dave, feel upon their first entry within their new venue. An occasional timer reminds us of the hours that whittle away as rehearsals continue, plagued by the typical problems that come with attempting to stage any kind of production – however this time, there’s a much greater push for everything to be perfect. Despite anxieties and emotions running high, it never ventures into full pathos – the group’s community and support network shines through, and you realize how magnificent this band are together, ensuring a positive and fun environment is constant throughout it all. Because ultimately, if you aren’t able to have fun with your cast and crew, why are you doing it at all?

Dave, director of the play during rehearsals.

As we finally approach the curtain call, we gain insight into a much more reserved and tense atmosphere, allowing us a glimpse into the different fears and worries that the members have – while we aren’t given specifics, there’s a genuine sense of suspense that makes your heart thump, as though you yourself are about to go on stage and perform alongside them. Kummer and Harvey have to be commended for this, because I genuinely felt so close to the people we followed to this moment that I was experiencing nerves on their very behalf. Just as everything fades away, and the curtain finally opens, we have an incredibly simplistic yet immensely powerful moment – the entire theatre, packed to its limits, a sold-out show framed right, and framed right we have Dave, alone, with his head buried into a piece of the set; in that moment, Kummer and Harvey speak volumes about Dave’s psychological and emotional start without a single piece of dialogue, music, or sound – it speaks for itself.

Of course we get to see some highlights from the show itself – and what a show it is! I’m jealous that I wasn’t able to be a part of the original crowd that experienced this, because when you finally get to see the fruits of their labour, you can feel the passion and the dedication that’s been put into crafting the best possible production. There’s such a brutal and absolute honesty to these performers, to the point where Dave mentions where their after-drinks will be for any feedback whatsoever – to open yourself up to such a vulnerability in the pursuit of a genuine response is resoundingly respectful. Their backgrounds of bus drivers, students and co-workers completely melts away, as they pull you into this mystifying world by capturing the essence of Alien. We see their ideas and their creations come to life, to an audience that is perfectly seated for such an adventure into the scientific. When the curtain finally falls, and the crowd stands in ovation, because of course they do, we get a glimpse of David as he processes everything that’s led to that moment, and what’s happening in that moment – he’s so overwhelmed, overloaded with raw emotion that bursts out of the screen much like an emotional infant xenomorph, and you feel so immensely proud.

Alien on Stage is one of the absolute standouts not only of Frightfest, but arguably the year – its heart-warming tale of community being uplifted by the recognition of their efforts and their dedication is a beautiful story that is captured effortlessly by Kummer and Harvey, and demonstrates the power of kindness in changing people’s lives.

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