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Back to the Future - Theatre Review

The musical rendition of ‘Back to the Future’ might have faced a COVID-related setback during its opening, but fear not, time-travel enthusiasts - this one is set to stick around in the West End, no flux capacitor required! It’s an all-encompassing spectacle that checks off every box imaginable. Picture this: every scene bursting with tunes, dances, quirky fantasy bits, tongue-in-cheek nods to the audience, and mind-blowing sound, lighting, and special effects - talk about an entertainment overload!  

Just like the film, the musical kicks off with the unstoppable team hero, Marty McFly, jamming out on a cracked-up ukulele in Doc Brown’s empty lab. From there, it is a whirlwind - auditioning for a talent show, chilling with his girlfriend Jennifer, meeting Biff (old and young), talking with a clock tower enthusiast, hanging out with his ‘less-than-stellar’ family, and of course, embarking on that wild ride back in time in the legendary DeLorean. Cue the tangled love triangle between Marty, his mum and dad (it is still a story one step from incest). It is the film, with a few cheeky tweaks, but why mess with the existing story beloved by millions?  

Ben Joyce steps into Marty McFly’s shoes with a fantastically energetic performance. While he retains the essence of Michael J. Fox’s iconic character, Joyce injects his own dose of teenage naivety, avoiding feeling like a copycat. Meanwhile, Cory English breathes a new life into the beloved Dr. Emmett Brown. Originally an intense and erratic scientist portrayed by Christopher Lloyd, English morphs the character into a lovable, whimsical figure oozing comedic charm and irresistible likability.  

The onstage chemistry between Marty and Doc feels tighter, like two old friends effortlessly bantering. I guess for the audience their camaraderie has been going strong for the past 40 years, so it is fair that the production skims past the extreme difficulties of their filmic relationship. Instead, the focus is on retelling the story with playful nods to the film, trading character introspection for a delightful romp down memory lane. Who needs drama when you have charm and nostalgia? 

Whilst the running joke about Marty and Doc spotting the backing dancers was a humorous touch, it does toe the line of cheap humour, occasionally disrupting the otherwise fast-paced momentum of the musical. Not a game-changer by any means, but it stood out as an odd choice, and felt worthy of a mention.  

Stepping into the theatre and encountering the video projection wall, enveloping strip lighting, and sci-fi sound effects instantly immerses you in the mood. And kudos for slipping in songs from the 1950’s during the interval - a clever touch that kept the audiences subconscious happily rooted in the past. The projections during the DeLorean’s time-travel pursuit of speed were simply mind-blowing! I was so entrances that I genuinely believed that the prop car was zooming at breakneck speed on stage. Watching it cruise around the stage was a thrill, but when it soared through the temporal barrier and out over the audience, my mind was blown. Chris Fisher, the illusion director, deserves every award he is eligible for. Oh, and that climactic clock tower sequence during the lightning storm… kiss me on the mouth and tell me you love me. Wow.  

In terms of sheer performance, there is an avalanche of elements - songs, stunts, lighting, wizardry, props, costumes, explosions, and flying cars. If this were not a story everyone in the audience knew by heart, keeping pace with the narrative would be quite the challenge. Occasionally, storytelling takes a backseat to the wow-factor, but frankly, that is perfectly acceptable and fitting for this musical. There is so much happening that I would happily return multiple times, seeking out every hidden gem missed in the whirlwind. Admittedly, while the songs were enjoyable (and that is vital in a musical), they did blend a bit, not the kind that leaves tunes lingering in your head.  

The stagecraft is incredible, complex, and flawlessly executed, and the show’s humour effortlessly lands without seeming forced. There were moments I had to retriever my jaw from the floor - a testament to how much this production supposed my expectations. I typically find most film-based musicals miss the mark, but this one exceeded my expectations by miles.  

If you have seen ‘Back to the Future’ you will like the musical, if you love the film, you will adore it. If, however, you do not enjoy either version… I guess you guys aren’t ready for it yet. But your kids are gonna love it. 


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