What do you want in your documentaries? Sweeping views of Colombian jungles? An in-depth exploration of the habits of migrating monarch butterflies? Or a group of bus drivers from Dorset who decide to put on their stage version of the classic sci-fi horror, Alien? Well, good news, you can have all three, but if you’re looking for an almost unbelievable underdog story that leaves you misty-eyed at the end, then the latter is perfect for you.
Every year this bunch of bus employees puts on a stage show for charity, and their usual fare (ha) is a crowd-pleasing pantomime, but Alien On Stage picks up their story right after their finished run of a few nights to twenty people on their home stage of something a little different. In a move motivated by the frustrations of an industry that doesn’t really want to look outside of LA, their resident writer (and son of the director) leans into his love of sci-fi horror and opts for his own Alien adaptation instead of yet another standard fairy tale. The rehearsal footage is gently hilarious – we can feel the palpable feeling of everyone being totally out of their element – but everything really accelerated when a couple of filmmakers, fuelled by social media’s love of an oddity, manage to get them booked for one night at Leicester Square.
Insert panicked, disbelieving faces all ’round.
What follows is the kind of underdog movie that UK audiences love so much, except it’s even more compelling as the people involved are all so real. Without an ounce of professional acting experience between them, it’s a testament to the power of creativity – there’s never any moment where they question their right to be there, and every single staging need gets brilliantly solved by the passive skills of the group and their friends. So, Nostromo interiors are sprayed foam and plastic piping, space suits are bought from eBay, and facehuggers burst out of eggs thanks to the power of precisely-pulled fishing rods. Then there’s the Alien suit itself, make with stunning accuracy out of what appears to be vacuum tubes and sticky tape. The documentary makes the clever move of showing us a huge chunk of the big London performance, cutting between from the audience’s view and the incredible coordinated action backstage to make it all work.
The effect this all has is to place us front and centre of this incredible tale of art, passion and sheer tenacity. You’ll feel the love from the audience and they cheer along to every moment, and the beaming faces of the group afterwards remind us of the transformative power of the creative arts. What a journey, and what a story. Settle in and don’t expect to have dry eyes at the end.
Alien on Stage played as part of the 2021 Fantasia Festival.