An Archive History… so far of: 'THUNDERBIRDS F.A.B.'
"With the train precariously balanced on the edge of oblivion, the life of the President hangs in the balance. Will the mysterious Mr X triumph after all? Thunderbirds 1 and 2 join forces with the indestructible Captain Scarlet in a desperate fight for survival. Time is invaluable - the penalty for delay could be disaster!"
These were the stirring words written on a leaflet back in 1984 when the very first performances of 'Thunderbirds F.A.B' took place in a small venue just outside Edinburgh in Scotland. The show quickly found its way South to The Place Theatre in London on November 16th and 17th of the same year, where the performances completely sold out. It was then that we first sensed the possibilities of what 'THUNDERBIRDS F.A.B.' could become.
We returned to the same theatre in December where the show was greeted with equal fervour and 'lookalikes' in the audience who chanted the lines. In January 1985 as part of the London International Mime Festival, we were invited back for a third time with the same results.
Since then, the show has toured all over the world and now includes six seasons in London's West End, three tours to Japan, two tours to Australia and New Zealand, and performances in the USA, Hong Kong, Singapore and several extensive tours of the United Kingdom in its repertoire.
It was in 1989 that we first teamed up with producer John Gore. He had seen the show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, in London's South Bank Centre, where the show's soundtrack was played live by an orchestra. He then suggested that we open the show in the West End, to which we readily agreed, and so on September 11th 1989 we performed in the aptly named Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, where the performances were supported by 'Space Panorama' (the story of the Apollo 11 moon landing told on a table-top by Andrew's hands and Gavin's voice). In a short season the success was enormous, breaking the box office record previously held by Sir John Gielgud, and was unprecedented insofar as the performances there used no live music, very little text, was based on a sixties genre of puppet shows and performed by only two actors wearing rockets on their heads. Perhaps that absurdity, coupled with an acute observation of the original and an affectionate celebration of its cult status was the winning combination.
In 1990, after the initial West End season, we were contracted for a six-month tour of Australasia, and it was on our return that we worked with two actors, Paul Kent and Wayne Forester, to take on the mantle of characters and crafts alike. Paul and Wayne were so good that they stayed with the show for a further three West End seasons - at The Ambassadors, The Mermaid Theatre and again at The Apollo Theatre. They also toured internationally until in 1994 the merry-go-round slowed down somewhat and the show ceased touring, until 2000 when it all happened again!
The stage version we initially created was a comically nostalgic event, and also a celebration of what was an extraordinary television creation. It is surely no accident that the series have been shown again to a new generation of parents and children. For us to have had the opportunity, as we did, to re-visit the show is a rare one. We have been able to re-master, update and play with the original creation with the benefit of technological advances some sixteen years after its conception.
The last incarnation of the show opened at The Playhouse Theatre in London ’s West End in November 2000 and played there for three months, bringing us and the production into the twenty-first century – in line with the time in which the original television series was set. A four-month UK tour followed and then at The Aldwych we were again able to present the show with the added knowledge that the original TV series have become familiar to all due to their repeated showings on the BBC. Thus, for the first time, the evil Mr X has finally transmogrified into Captain Black, whom we think feels most comfortable with the other characters in the cast!
Since the first performances in 1984, scenes have been added, modified or replaced and we have added extra craft such as Stingray, the Terrafish and Thunderbird 4 to Thunderbirds 1 and 2, which were originally the only models in the production.
Through television appearances and performances in theatres all over the world literally millions have seen at least some, if not all of ‘Thunderbirds F.A.B.’ The current production represents to us the optimum version of a theatrical journey begun in a hired Ford Transit (diesel, kept freezing!) on a tour of the Highland Region of Scotland in 1984.
We are very happy to be associated with the genre of Gerry Anderson’s work – even though he assures us that we are to blame for inventing ‘that walk’ now seen in countless game shows and comedy sketches! It is a testament to Gerry’s original series and the playful spirit of the production itself that together we can celebrate the movements, voices and situations that different generations have grown to love.
Gavin Robertson and Andrew Dawson
December 2001 (updated November 2005)