Here at STARBURST, we’re well aware that sci-fi TV shows have a tendency to generate extremely loyal fanbases. Fanatical - The Musical is a bang up to date homage to that greatest of all fan gatherings - the convention. Anyone who has been to such an event will be well aware that the potential for things to go badly wrong is ever-present - and it’s this fear that forms the crux of the drama in this production.
Fanatical is set at “Eight:Con:One”, a convention for the entirely fictional but highly recognisable space adventure Angel 8. Even though we see the fan art, the fan models, the cosplay and even the LARPers, we never really find out much about the show, although it’s obviously in the Star Trek/Firefly mode of a small group of intrepid adventurers who hold themselves and others to high moral ideals. It’s also clear that even though we the audience might not know much about the show, the characters do. Indeed, ‘fan art’ in the theatre entrance hall suggests that show creators Matt Board and Reina Hardy developed a rich background world, hinted at in the programme which features some cover art from the ‘original’ Angel 8 comic.
The action we see is firmly based at the convention venue, and this recreation will be familiar to anyone who has ever been to an event like this. Fanatical pulls off the illusion in spectacular style, right down to the detailing of the lanyards the characters wear, and the fake Funko Pop! figures on the set. There’s very clever use of tech whenever a character is using their smartphone - we instantly understand what social network is being used, or which other character someone is talking to.
Grace Taylor has directed a small but enthusiastic and joyful cast to deliver a performance which we greatly enjoyed. There is definite potential for the show to be scaled up to accommodate a bigger cast, but in this current incarnation, the show feels just the right size for the venue.
The plot is quite straightforward - Con-runner Trix (Suanne Braun) has arranged for Angel 8’s creator, Scott Furnish (Stephen Frost), to give the keynote address at this year’s Con. As Fanatical is knowledgeable about its fandom cliches, as well as its TV tropes, the Con does not proceed as well as Trix would like. Scott Furnish is on his way - or is he? - and enthusiastic ‘volunteer’ Baxter (Eddy Payne) is running around trying to track down an undercover journalist, before that journalist can ‘expose the nerds’ and ridicule them for their passion for a TV show that might be in trouble with its network executives. Meanwhile, uber-cosplayer and Strong Female Lead fan Andra (Sophie Powles) is heavily flirting with ‘noob’ Craig (Tim Rogers). The plot moves on at an ever-increasing pace, and by the end of Act 1 it seems as if the Con will prove to be a disaster. But fear not! As in all good musicals, in Act 2 our rag-tag group of characters work together to, eventually, save the day - and the finale is spectacular.
Fanatical is a show that has been a long time in development. Matt Board (Music and Lyrics) and Reina Hardy (Book) clearly have an in-depth knowledge of fandom, where it lives, and how fans express their love for their favourite show. This production has crowbarred just about every fandom reference possible into the narrative of the show, from the ‘old school’ of photocopied fanfic sent through the post, to the modern world of Tumblr and DeviantArt - there’s even a ‘Chekov’s forum moderator’.
If all of this sounds like your particular flavour of sci-fi space pop opera, then we strongly recommend that you should catch this run at The Playground Theatre in West London. It will remind you why you love whatever it is that you’re a fan of - and how much ‘silly stories’ can change the lives of those who love them. Above all, Fanatical is a love letter to fandom, and you should definitely RSVP.
Fanatical - A Sci-Fi Convention Musical continues at The Playground Theatre, Latimer Road, London, until 9th December 2018.
See https://theplaygroundtheatre.london/events/fanatical-get-your-geek-on-book-tickets for full details of show dates and times.