If you’re like me, you’ve been obsessed with the North Bergen High School’s production of Alien two years ago. The New Jersey high school, with the film and a dream as inspiration, crafted a unique and (by high school standards) masterfully produced production of Alien. The production garnered so much attention that James Cameron and Walter Hill sent their respects, and Ridley Scott, the director of Alien, funded an encore performance for the public to come see, with Ellen Ripley herself, Sigourney Weaver, surprising the cast backstage and delivering an introduction to the play. It was a fascinating bubble in time back in 2019, and one that’s worth to digging into just how passionate both students and teachers are at creating unique, bold visions at any age and on any budget.
Alien on Stage, a documentary by Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer, is not about these students, or their production of Alien. It’s about the small town British bus drivers who did it first, six years prior.
Wimborne, a town in Dorset, England, about two hours west of London, is about as nondescript as a town in England can get. But in the heart of the tight-knit city is a community theatre populated almost entirely by public bus drivers. After performing a particularly successful pantomime rendition of Robin Hood, the amateur troupe must consider which show to perform next. In the midst of wanting to distance themselves from the self-parody that is panto, they settle on taking a risk in adapting Alien. The rest, as they say, is history.
Alien on Stage, while a documentary on the rise from community theatre to performing Alien on the West End, plays much like a charming British dramedy film in the natural and touching charm that radiates from its being. These are bus drivers in a small town who are taking perhaps the biggest creative risks of their lives, creating something from literally nothing just to be able to say they were a part of something like this. It’s a film so inherently lovely that you almost feel like happy-crying whenever anything happens. In the midst of doing an uber-violent stage play about a killer parasitic alien, everyone is just so happy to be there and displays such kindness and generosity that it’s perhaps the perfect companion piece to something as dark as Alien.
The documentary, made as on-the-fly as the stage production was, is lacking flash or polish (apart from its expertly crafted opening/closing credits), which genuinely doesn’t matter as the film progresses. A documentary is only as good as its subjects, and Alien on Stage could’ve been filmed on a flip phone camera from 2003 and it still would’ve stolen my heart with its beautiful heart and infectious charm.
You probably already know whether something like Alien on Stage is for you or not. It’s perhaps the most touching, lighthearted film I saw at SXSW, and it’s a breath of fresh air amongst the doom-and-gloom of some of the films surrounding it. Fans of any appreciation level of Alien will get a kick out of just how much fun this group of unlikely individuals is having with the material, and it’s not hard to understand why. Both the stage production and the documentary itself are particularly rough around the edges in their execution, but it only stands to make the final product all the more charming in the end. I would’ve given anything to have been in that audience for that show when it played back in 2013-2015, but to experience it now is its own gift in and of itself.
Screening during the 2021 SXSW Film Festival beginning March 18th, 2021.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.