Tech Blog Return To The Forbidden Planet

By Lois Cross, longtime cast member.
Return to the Forbidden Planet
Langwith Dining Hall, Summer 2004

This was, I am reliably informed, the first time a set had been used in Langwith Dining Hall (as it then was). Previously only a backcloth had been used for the summer show. The set for Planet was actually reasonably complicated, to fit the demands of the show, but it had the advantage that nothing had to be moved during the performance. Anyway, it seemed to work.

The stage was constructed to look like the bridge of a spaceship. There were several flats across the back of the stage. On stage left there was an 'airlock' made of one flat with a window cut in it (with cling film stretched across the hole to look like a porthole). On stage right at the back there was another porthole, taking the place of what I believe is supposed to be a video screen. On stage right there was a large flat, I can't remember what it was made of but it wasn't hardboard, which was turned into the Klystron Generator by sticking painted cardboard tubes, bits of computer keyboard, milk bottle tops and shiny CD's to it. And miles of hazard tape.

Similarly decorated cardboard panels were attached to the rest of the flats to complete the effect. This allowed the chorus to spend most of their time on stage appearing to be pressing buttons and using machinery to control the ship, but we were under strict orders not to actually touch the set! The mastermind behind the spaceship design was Tor Steventon (now Tor Bush) who even added some nice touches of shading to the panels and was very annoyed when some techies attached one upside down. The idea was that everyone in the cast would turn up and make their own panel, which they would then be able to use on stage, but like most ideas designed to get the cast to turn up at setbuilding, it had only limited success. Another particularly notable panel consisted of a large red button and lever marked "Do not touch."

The flats we used for this show were smaller than either the new (Sorcerer) flats or the Ida ones. I don't think they were as tall or as sturdy, I think the width of the flats was the same as the Ida set. A couple of them survived in the back of the container, mainly because we thought it might be useful to have flats with windows in. The construction seemed to be quite good, with corner joints better constructed than some we've made!

The centre of the stage was occupied by the captain's chair, a marvelous cardboard construction around a normal chair. The console desk was also one of the normal Langwith dining hall tables (very solid pieces of furniture, as Chris notes!) with painted cardboard around it to 'dress' it. The original idea, I believe, was to have a keyboard on the desk which cast members could play during some of the songs, but this never happened (I suspect trailing wires across the stage where people would be dancing wouldn't have been a good idea).

Costumes were simple, white t-shirts and black trousers for the chorus, with 'officers' in different coloured t-shirts and other principals in suitable clothes of their own. Dr Prospero made a startling appearance on the last night by rising from the dead for his encore wearing a sparkly gold vest made for the previous show under his lab coat. Arial the robot's costume (sadly without roller skates- apparently health and safety wouldn't have approved) consisted of a foam breastplate, helmet and leg and arm bands held on with gaffer tape, over a black skinsuit, and some silver facepaint. It was very hot for Rick and liable to need repairing every time he came off stage.

For sound, we had three standard mikes at the front of the stage which worked as there wasn't much chorus singing, the chorus in Planet being there mainly to do backing vocals and dance while the principals sang into the mike. There was also (I think) a mike backstage, behind the porthole where Dr Prospero sang his first song before coming onstage. There was also a light there which gave a good effect, although how much the audience saw of him through the porthole I'm not sure. We used the usual lighting rig. There were a few problems in blacking out Langwith (see Chris's note on Another Openin') and I remember people pulling open the curtains in the upper JCR to watch. They weren't the only ones looking at something they shouldn't have: the band (keyboards and brass mainly- who were situated to stage left) had a TV on stage with them to watch football during one of the shows!

We also used a smoke machine, hidden in the airlock, for people's entrances. It had a tendancy to fire off all by itself at unexpected moments, but certainly gave a good sci-fi effect. While investigating getting the fire alarms turned off the committee were sent on a trail from person to person around campus, eventually discovering that the alarms in that room were heat sensitive, not smoke, so they needn't have bothered.

The other exciting prop was the 3 tentacles belonging to the 'monster from the Id'. Straight out of early Dr Who, these were luminously green painted washing machine concertina tubing, which the cast grabbed and manipulated while pretending to be attacked by them. When the monster was driven off, the tentacles were dropped and offstage techies pulled them in. It was perhaps the most fun piece of acting I've ever done. The whole show was probably the best balance for a long time between over-ambition and what it's possible to achieve in 8 weeks, and while not being our most professional performance, it was still a lot of fun for the cast.

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