Few films have left the cultural legacy of Ridley Scott’s Alien since its release. The seminal work of horror and sci-fi touched on classicism, racism, feminism, and sexual violence through ground-breaking visuals. But, above all else, the creature feature was entertaining as hell, creating involuntary reactions of shock, laughter, and fear at every turn. The enduring legacy of the film spawned sequels, video games, comics, and crossovers. Yet Alien on Stage, a documentary focused on a small-town community theater putting on a stage production of the film, allows the audience to let the pure joy of the story wash over you.
In the small town of Dorsett in the United Kingdom, an amateur theatrical troupe puts on yearly shows for families and friends. The Dorsett Bus Drivers create amateur productions for their neighbors, calling on local craftsmen and writers to help stage their shows. Documentarians Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer begin to follow the production after unusual word-of-mouth reaches London. While the hometown production sold less than fifty tickets, a West-End theater offers to host the show for a one-night-only. The show immediately sells out.
Harvey and Kummer capture the theater troupe reckons with the struggles of putting on any show. It is difficult to shake the Waiting for Guffman and Rushmore stylings of the production. The actors earnestly want a passion outside of their daily routine, even acknowledging they were unlikely to step on a West-End stage. From the writers to the set designers, every person involved in the show wants to create a memorable experience. The passion shows in every aspect of the show.
Pete, the man responsible for the innovative props, shows off his loving creations from his garage. Through the use of straws, Styrofoam, and fishing line, he constructs a working Xenomorph costume. He later builds the blood-soaked chest-burster, puppets of the face-hugger, and a detachable head for the Ash fight sequence.
Meanwhile, the cast struggles to learn their lines and work through an unusual production schedule. They have few rehearsals, and those are often interrupted by tea-time or smoke breaks. Director Dave Mitchell wears his exasperation on his face, but the Alien production quickly becomes a family-bonding experience. His wife Lydia plays Ripley, and his son Luc aspires to be a screenwriter. Luc reveals the show was his brainchild, frustrated by creating Pantomine presentations in the previous years. Unlike most of the crew, Luc has genuine aspirations to have a career in showbusiness, dreams that have been thwarted by living in Dorset. He even admits that living outside of the London and Hollywood bubbles have left many of his screenplays unread. As a writer living outside of the major entertainment cities, I could not ignore the thirst to create for larger audiences.
It is thrilling to watch the production change and adapt through its rehearsals, even as elements change in the final hours before their West-End debut. The comedy springs from the inherently ridiculous nature of the play and the fabulous array of personalities in the troupe. The film never pokes fun at its subjects but admires them for taking such a giant swing. It is impossible to not feel the swell of pride and relief about the West-End production when the credits roll.
Despite putting on a show about an unfeeling monster that kills without remorse, the Dorset Bus Drivers create an infectiously amusing story. The beauty of Alien on Stage stems from these moments of intimate human drama. Even the most stressful moments in life contain joy and hilarity, and Alien on Stage brilliantly captures that truth. This will make Alien on Stage an enduring classic for those who seek it out and should only grow in popularity as the years go on.