Let’s just appreciate that title for a moment. It’s the sort of glorious title an eight year-old would come up with for their yet-to-be-improvised-in-the-back-yard home movie. The entire show pursues that kind of home movie feel: the set is composed of a series of stacked and painted cardboard boxes; an ironing board becomes a rocket; the dialogue is deliberately cringeworthy; the performances are beautifully hammy.
The faux-shoddiness of this play masks a great deal of sophistication
The three protagonists are also all pointed stereotypes. We have the working class lad with a heart of gold, Alan, played by the very bald, and very funny, Simon Nader. He accompanies the boffin-y professor, Sir Oliver (Gavin Robertson), and the professor’s niece, Helen (Katharine Hurst — a standout performer amongst a strong trio). Helen fulfils the role of ‘The Woman’ and she’s allowed to tag along because, as the professor points out, someone will have to do all the screaming.
Aside from the obvious love of sci-fi, Escape is infused with an unmistakable love for theatre, for all things theatrical. And the way it expresses that love is with a slickly put-together production that aspires for an ultra-amateur vibe. Escape revels in highlighting the usually-hidden seams holding the whole shebang together. Scenes which exist simply to pass the time, expositional dialogue, outrageously convenient plotting — all these and more are parodied to hilarious effect.
The faux-shoddiness of this play, however, masks a great deal of sophistication. The ingenious set morphs between a house, helmets, a spaceship, an ancient sentient alien ruin, an avalanche, and more as the scenes demand. In addition to the set itself, the use of mundane materials — a giant bit of cling film comes to mind — are used to produce quite an amazing sense of place. The actors too are impressively metamorphic, alternating between a huge number of characters — dinosaurs, monkeys, plants included — with a great instinct for instant characterisation.
There are one too many lulls in the show’s momentum, and the quality of the jokes themselves isn’t consistently high enough to be truly great, but the show is never less than endearing. Escape from the Planet of the Day That Time Forgot is a hyper-self-aware love-letter to 20th-century sci-fi that’s gleefully unafraid of cheese. A cholesterol nightmare, then, but a guilty pleasure. Just take a few statins and enjoy the ride.