A documentary whose goofy, DIY sensibility matches its endearingly amateur subject matter, Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer’s Alien On Stage is the quintessential homegrown hero. Following the most British cast ever assembled, Alien On Stage tells the story of a group of Dorset bus drivers who decide to shake up their annual charity pantomime by taking on their first semi-serious project: a stage adaptation of the iconic sci-fi movie Alien. Despite initially being a flop, when the British public catch wind of the idea, the production explodes, with a crowdfunding campaign sending the cast to London’s West End. With the play becoming a The Room-esque hit, it quickly becomes unclear whether some of the team know they’re performing a comedy or not.
The main problem with Alien On Stage, then, is that it’s very much a work of the stage. The final third of the movie is dedicated almost entirely to the said production, as you’d probably hope from a film like this, but it isn’t entirely clear what substance the documentary half of the film is bringing to the table. While the interviews with the cast are achingly sincere, and the team’s impromptu prop-master is a revelation, the film documentary elements are overshadowed, almost negated even, by its own subject matter. This isn’t helped by the film’s homespun sensibility which, intentionally or not, comes across as simply cheap and slapdash in the absence of any larger vision.
Despite being a delightful farce from start to finish, there’s one way in which Alien On Stage bears a stomach-churning resemblance to its source material, and that’s in the pervading sense of absolute dread. It’s all fun and games at first, following this ragtag group of actors and supporting players while their play is fixed on a local scale, but under the spotlight of national scrutiny, the anxiety that the audience is laughing at them instead of with them is almost too much to bear. Thankfully, Alien On Stage doesn’t trade in any such cynicism or cheap laughs at the expense of its subjects, but instead revels in the utter silliness of the concept while still admiring its sincerity. Just like the play that inspired it, Alien On Stage might be feel-good fluff, but, as the film asserts throughout, that certainly need not be an insult.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2021 — Dispatch 4.