Fanatical ★★★★

Join sci-fi fans in their own fantasy musical multiverse

Welcome to Angel8Con and the happy crew of cosplayers (that’s fans dressed as their onscreen idols). This world might be alien to the rest of us mere mortals, but it looks like huge fun in this appealingly inventive new musical by Matt Board (music and lyrics) and Reina Hardy (book).

The pair have created their own authentic hinterland complete with geekspeak and slogans like, “this ragtag crew we call humankind” and “we’re small but we’re mighty”.

Director Grace Taylor and designer P J McEvoy, clearly inspired by the writing duo, pay fanatical attention to detail themselves to create this comic convention where the theatre audience are cast as fellow fans, sharing their adulation for heroines like fearless spaceship pilot Iris Aucht and, of course, Scott Furnish, the reclusive sci-fi author behind Angel 8 (first a comic, now a major TV series).

Fanatical © Scott Rylander.jpg

Fans dressed as their favourite characters, some with full-face alien masks, gleefully fill the stage, on a set dominated by a screen that by turns indicates locations like Convention Hall 1 in the apparently vast venue and also usefully acts as a giant screen for an Instagram feed, texts and Tweets. There’s even an authentic-looking merchandise stand.

Backstage, Suanne Braun’s permanently frazzled convention organiser Trix marshals her staff, themselves drawn from the loyal fan base, anxiously awaiting the much-heralded arrival of Scott Furnish himself, who is to give the keynote speech anticipating a promised second TV season.

Trix’s crew is led by Iris Aucht-devotee and lookalike Andra, in dashing tight space-gear topped off with shocking pink pixie wig. Sophie Powell’s Andra is a wonderfully warm and positive life force, with a smile to light up spaceship or alien landscape alike. She skilfully fields Trix’s anxious-to-please teenage nephew Baxter, played with puppy-dog eagerness by Eddy Payne. She’s even prepared to give a chance to Tim Rogers’ sympathetic conflicted Craig, a first-time comic-con attendee, suspected of being an interloper sent by a lad’s mag to write an article rubbishing the whole scene. But all this pales into insignificance when a drunken Furnish arrives to drop a bombshell…

Fanatical 1 © Scott Rylander.jpg

The good-natured hokum is entirely consistent with the likes of Dr Who – and indeed the hard-working trio of convention crew members who complete the cast – Amy Lovatt’s Lizette, Amber Sylvia Edwards’ Jillian (note the quirky spellings) and Theodore Crosby’s Bernard – could stand in if called upon for the current “Who crew”. And because they have multiple identities in the multiverse, they exchange staff t-shirts for character costumes in a picosecond. So that catchphrase, “We’re small but we’re mighty” could deservedly be adopted by the cast!

Stephen Frost is totally believable as a drunken, disillusioned Furnish. If it wasn’t that he is so well cast, you might suspect he was offered the part on the strength of his initials alone – SF, Scott Furnish and even perhaps sci-fi.

The songs are fun too, if sometimes a trifle relentless. But overall this is a box set that might well become an addiction!

By Judi Herman

Photos by Scott Rylander

Fanatical: A Sci-Fi Convention Musical runs until Sunday 9 December. 7.30pm, 3pm (Wed & Sat only). £12.50-£25. The Playground Theatre, W10 6RQ. 020 8960 0110.

Click here to read our interview with Fanatical’s award-winning Jewish producer Neil Marcus.