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SXSW 2021 Review: 'Alien On Stage' reaches for the stars

Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer's 'Alien On Stage' follows an amateur English theater production of 'Alien' from a no-show local opening to the West End's shining spotlights.

The cast of 'Alien On Stage.'
(Image: © SXSW)

Our Verdict

'Alien On Stage' is a heartwarming ode to the dreamers with day jobs who chase passions on the side, and the rewards that await those who dare pursue their craziest ideas.

For

  • 🚌 Watching nice things is nice.
  • 🚌 A positive example of fandom.
  • 🚌 Nothing too daunting in terms of documentary content.

Against

  • 🚌 As advertised on the box, not much else.
  • 🚌 No real dramatic stakes (intentional or not).
  • 🚌 For 'Alien' fans only.

Alien On Stage is part of our SXSW 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

“In Dorset,” as Alien On Stage claims, “no one can hear you scream.” But can anyone catch me choking back elated sniffles? Xenomorphs crash-landed on a South West England community theater stage and found their way to the West End, all while documentary filmmakers Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer roll cameras. A little space vessel that could, and its unexpected trajectory from booking 20-odd community tickets opening night to selling out London’s Leicester Square Theatre. It’s a story about passion, perseverance, and the whiplash experience of being a pursuer of creative interests, but speaks to larger wholesomeness about proper fandom appreciation. At its best? Bus drivers—purebred amateurs—experience thunderous applause after presumed defeat. At its worst? A cute and harmless collection of footage questions, “How did we get here?”

The Paranoid Dramatics Alien production isn’t the North Bergen High School Alien adaptation Sigourney Weaver attended in New Jersey, mind you. Quite frankly, the academic endeavor manufactured using primarily recycled materials carries a far more impressive visual grandeur—which almost makes this low-fi UK effort that much more intriguing? Harvey and Kummer were integral in relocating the professional transportation drivers to London’s theatrical district, in addition to producing evidence footage by way of Alien On Stage. Despite Wimborne, Dorset’s lack of enthusiasm over a novice retelling of such a storied Ridley Scott epic, Ripley obsessors and theater die-hards recognized the spark of ingenuity in director Dave Mitchell’s love letter to Alien.

Most interestingly, Harvey and Kummer shine a light on the labor-intensive prop craftsmanship that recreated Xenomorph exoskeleton suits using bicycle helmets, foam tubes, and YouTube instructions. Cryochamber mechanisms needed to be operated by hand to open on cue, while fishing lines dangled Chestbursters to mimic the act of living extraterrestrial mobility. Audiences generally understand what goes into backdrop architecture and stitching costumes, but the difference between Hollywood resources and thrift store shopping highlights the toilsome invention required to recreate Nostromo's bells and whistles using household objects. Alien On Stage is a testament to passion projects, and while there’s nothing groundbreaking about do-it-yourself artists, the reaping of rewards for these weary on-the-side performers tickles your soul.

Throughout Harvey and Kummer’s coverage, conversations and interactions remain pleasurably light. Some players are defined merely by their stammered line readings. Others, like Jason Hill aka Captain Dallas, reveal they’re completing law degrees while steering buses and defending against cosmic horrors. Director Dave isn’t slamming tables when Hill reads off his script only hours before curtains raise. Actors aren’t sweating bullets, creating unnecessary drama for some reality show branded intrigue. Alien On Stage shares smiles, enthusiasm, and inspiration as day jobbers experience regenerative euphoria by stepping out of mundanity and into “astronaut suits,” even for but a millisecond of artistic expression that is so self-fulfilling. Nothing needs to derail; devastation doesn’t need to strike. What’s not to love about sweethearts experiencing affirmation against the most stacked of odds?

Then again, documentation is not prophetically deep. Commentary isn’t remarkably unforeseen. Alien On Stage is only as interesting as your curiosity about how Paranoid Dramatics found themselves collapsing folding chairs then bowing in front of countless actors’ fantasy attendance. Their production became a smash hit that revisited London for yearly encores, akin to any no-budget, “Sweded” interpretation of famous Hollywood classics. Some might not find that experience all that compelling, especially without prior rewatches of Alien. These are friendly townsfolk living "celebrity" existences for a brief moment of respite from otherwise commonplace lifestyles, and that’s every ounce of endearment through each scene. Harvey and Kummer never mine anything more profound, but that’ll remain effective enough for demographic viewers.

In the end, Alien On Stage crept up on me like a Facehugger slithering through air ducts. While watching David’s troupe giggle their way through rehearsals, then meet receptive defeat, only to receive a phone call that changes everything, there’s enough earnestness to sustain. Then we reach Leicester, house lights fade, and these relative nobodies are met with riotous laughter as their mannequin android heads topple off fake-as-anything torsos, or junkyard Xenomorphs prowl the audience. When everything comes together in Leicester to thunderous applause—imperfections, misreadings, and all—it became more and more challenging to stifle emotions as a day jobber with a creative “hobby” (second career) myself. If you want to celebrate genuine dreamers doing something extraordinary with meager means while satiating your hunger for positive—and healthy—fandom expressionism? You’ll be safe on this voyage.