June 8, 2023

SXSW 2021: Film Review – Alien on Stage (2020)


An inspirational and hilarious account of the mercurial afternoon in Leicester  Square when amateur dramatics merged worlds with the cult Sci-Fi horror of Alien.

Bored with the pantomime antics of Robin Hood the previous year, a group of employees from the Wiltshire and Dorset Bus Company decided to widen their creative horizons with an amateur dramatics production of Alien.

This insanely ambitious endeavour, complicated by shift clashes and perpetual fag breaks, was met with bemused indifference by the local community. However, someone had spotted their poster in a supermarket and a convoluted process began that would see them swap village hall obscurity for the legendary lights of London’s West End.

Directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer have a demonstrable affection for their subject matter that bleeds into every low fi frame of their exceptionally entertaining documentary. Shot with a functional style that complements the subject matter perfectly they have fashioned a humanistic homage to the pure freedom of artistic expression.

The world they document is populated by characters who are engaged with theatre on a refreshingly organic level. Lured to the stage by the pellucid joy of putting on a show for the hell of it, rather than the barbed hooks of personal fame and pretentious delusions.

As a self-deprecating portrait of a notoriously cut-throat division of the arts from the perspective of wide-eyed interlopers it excels. However, as a stripped-back analysis of the warmth of authentic comradery and effervescent courage in the face of professional judgement, it becomes almost transcendental.

Such is the deadpan delivery of the questioning, and warts and all soft-pedal of the kitchen sink dramatics, this could easily pass as a devilish mockumentary from the same ballpark Christopher Guest swings his satirical bat.

Gleaming from the coalface of the daily grind are unpolished one-liners interlaced with the same unintentional humour and charm of the play itself. The scene where our newly emboldened thespians visit Forbidden Planet and decry an immaculate H.R. Giger Alien egg model as inferior to their homebrew knock-off is priceless.

Structurally, Alien on Stage is paced to perfection. We witness the hard graft, ingenious problem solving and begrudging patience and our emotional investment grows exponentially. As the countdown till curtain up becomes evermore pressing a kaleidoscope of empathetic butterflies gathers in our own stomachs in stagefright by proxy.

The climax of the film is, of course, extensive footage of the sold-out play itself and it does not disappoint.

A huge percentage of the audience had re-watched Ridley Scott’s masterpiece the day before unaware of the uproarious redaction that lay in wait. Some had even triggered cosplay mode, although full Alien costumes were diplomatically outlawed.

From the very outset, it became patently obvious that an infectious union between plucky expression and exuberant fandom had been struck. Every new instance of ingenuity and gumption from the players brought fresh waves of adoration and affection from the audience. Not a single soul heckled as the shared experience blossomed into a symbiotic roar of respectful hilarity.

During the interval, the crowd were preoccupied with the hope that the actors knew that they were being laughed with, and not at. Part compassionate fretting for the underdog and part non-altruistic fear that they may not return for the second instalment one thing was for sure, nobody wanted it to stop.

What this irresistible documentary nails so beautifully is the actual mindset of the men and women backstage. Utterly unphased by the strength of interaction and merriment, they had felt the glow of good-natured revelry and embraced it. Basking in the sheer delight of their own entertainment value during what must have been the most surreal afternoon of their lives.

Brimming with contagious positivity, Alien on Stage is a fitting testimony to a perfect storm of genre obsession and humanistic catharsis that no one in its chaotic eye will ever forget. It is both a handmade love letter to the tenacity of blind enthusiasm and a DIY death note to the hollow cynicism of snobbery.

Lovingly curated and confidently crafted this sanguine meditation on the interdependent nature of organic joyousness is among the most invigorating documentaries of the year.


Horror/Sci-fi Documentary | UK ,2020 | SXSW 2021  | Dirs. Danielle Kummer & Lucy Harvey | Employees from the Wiltshire and Dorset Bus Company

This is a repost of our 2020 Arrow Video Frightfest review | original review link
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