Science fiction is a genre that has grown ever more sophisticated over recent decades with offerings tending to be very dark, typically focussing on a dystopian world or a future where humanity is lost to robots and computers. Dark examples of sci-fi go right back to ‘Metropolis’ (1927) and of course Victorian literature but a certain kind of less sophisticated and decidedly more humorous branch of science fiction emerged through the 50’s and 60’s. The science might not have well thought out but who cared if space girls were sexy (think of ‘Barbarella’ or Caroline Munro in ‘Star Crash’), the spacemen adorable hunks like Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers and the action essentially shoot-em-up Westerns set in space?
Comedy and sci-fi have often gone hand in hand in the movies (think of ‘Mars Attacks’ and ‘Earth Girls are easy’) and on TV, notably with ‘Red Dwarf’ but there have been some notable stage examples too. ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ starts with numerous references to sci-fi classics and ‘The Forbidden Planet (1956) movie found a new lease of life in the comedy musical ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’. Even the 60’s TV show Thunderbirds reached the West End stage with a theatre adaptation in 1989 with ‘Thunderbirds F.A.B.’
My own venture into comedy sci fi was ‘Moon Quest’ (published by Stage Scripts), unashamedly influenced by the likes of Star Trek and countless low-budget sci-fi TV shows and movies in which all planets have breathable atmospheres and space outfits are designed more with chic styling and bright colours in mind more than practical functionality.
Sci-fi from the classic 50’s/60’s era offers great possibilities for the stage because both costume and set, almost anything goes. Sexy, futuristic outfits can be put together using Lycra or a range of other stretchy fabrics. Space weapons like ray-guns or light sabres are not hard to create (did someone mention spraying water pistols?). Lighting designers have free reign to experiment with all kind of effects and moods. Set buildings can let their imaginations run wild building space rocket interiors. In ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ (a movie so bad that its’ actually good), the flying saucers featured were literally hub caps taken from a 1957 Chevrolet!
Comedy sci-fi is often unashamedly kitsch but that’s its hallmark. There is however another appeal of the genre and that is a certain kind of innocence. Brad and Janet in ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ are the ultimate naïve young couple (at least they meet Frank N. Furter) and if you think of the likes of Barbarella or Flash Gordon, they have no hidden agendas or devious attributes. The sci-fi hero is essentially an adventurer, usually on a moralistic quest but not averse to finding romance along the way. When you add glamour and fantasy to this appealing premise and, you have a powerful combination.