SXSW 2021 Review: Alien On Stage

Written by Anna Harrison

100/100

Of late, my faith in humanity has worn rather thin—for obvious reasons, I should think. Then, something like Alien On Stage comes along and renews my hope in the human race. No, I’m not exaggerating. It was the biggest boost of serotonin I have ever received.

Alien On Stage follows the adventures of several bus drivers in Dorset, England, as they mount an amateur theatrical production of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Yes, you read that correctly. The iconic horror movie Alien, with its cramped set, tense sense of dread, and strong sexual imagery transported to a community theater. The transition goes about as well as one might think—which is to say, poorly.

Through some twists of fate, Danielle Kummer and Lucy Harvey, the producers and directors of Alien On Stage, saw this bizarre flop of a production. Luckily for us viewers, they were so charmed by the endeavor that they managed to book the show in the Leicester Square Theatre for one day, whisking the employees of the Wilts and Dorset Bus Company from a glorified town hall to the West End. Alien On Stage chronicles this journey, and within the first five minutes cemented itself as one of the most contagiously joyful films I have ever seen, even though some of its growing pains (it is Kummer and Harvey’s first film) were obvious.

The whole situation sounds absurd, like something out of a fairy tale, but to call it one would be a disservice to the hours and hours of work the bus employees put into this production. With a shoestring budget, they managed to craft a wearable Xenomorph suit whose tail and jaw could be moved and a chest-burster operated by fishing lines. I found myself squealing with delight over the ingenious solutions the cast and crew came up with despite spending most of their time driving buses and by and large having little or no theater experience. Of course the production couldn’t match the movie, but it was so painstakingly crafted and made with such love and care that it didn’t matter we could tell that Ash’s disembodied head was papier-mâché, or that the vents through which Captain Dallas crawls were just tables laid on their sides.

The man, the myth, the legend Pete Lawford with his amazing props and creatures

Importantly, Alien On Stage features no tension or infighting between the cast and crew of the show, focusing on the support and love given to everyone involved rather than mining the situation for drama to heighten the stakes. Even the director, David, a self-described military man, remains nothing but positive—though he drinks copiously on opening night to calm his nerves. It is hard to overstate just how damn happy I felt watching this, and how invested I became in this show’s cast, crew, and success. They had the Xenomorph prowl through the audience! Absolute geniuses!

Alien On Stage serves as a jubilant testament to the power of art, showing that even the unlikeliest of people, when given the chance, can display brilliant creativity and talent. At its best, art unites people, and Alien On Stage represents the beating heart of the artistic endeavor. I rooted for these people across the Atlantic Ocean; I understood when Jacqui, who played Ash, talked about the relief she feels playing someone else on stage because I saw myself in that feeling; I rooted for writer Luc and his screenwriting dreams even in the face of his naysayers. When the crowd of Leicester Square Theater stood up to give Alien a standing ovation as David held back tears, I was sorely tempted to stand up and join them. 

Alien On Stage Trailer

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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