Long before the Kelvin timeline tormented true-blue Trekkies, South East London was introduced to a parallel universe of bold voyages where no man had gone before. The Churchill Theatre in Bromley, Kent raised the curtain on Star Trek: The Lost Voyage of the Enterprise for a limited time in November 1994.
Producer John Gore, who had enjoyed success with stage adaptations of other tv shows such as Wallace and Gromit, Thomas the Tank Engine and Thunderbirds, intended that this stage version of Star Trek would transfer to London’s West End after it had been tested on audiences in Bromley.
The Churchill Theatre was opened in 1977 by Prince Charles who some how managed to excuse the brutalist exterior designed by Bromley Council’s architects. Inside, the 800-seat venue is modeled on European opera houses, so perhaps that had more appeal. It is about 170 yards (a minute or so’s walk) from the birth site of one of science fiction’s founding fathers, HG Wells. A short bus ride will take you out to Biggin Hill (take note Peter David), home to one of the Battle of Britain air stations and where James Doohan and other Royal Canadian Air Force men were based during the Second World War.
Gore’s production opened with a Next Gen-style Klingon stepping out on an elaborate cod-alien landscape to petition a cosmic entity for power to go back in time and eliminate James T Kirk and his crew from creation. It was a turgid blood-oath, cringe-inducing and painfully poe-faced (though some people will tell you this is what serious drama is all-about and they should have kept this tone for the rest of the show).
The stage switched to more spartan dressing, bar a certain chair at the center, as the main cast, dressed in classic Trek uniforms, took their positions to do what the bridge crew do. All setting the scene for Captain Kirk to enter. Played by the late Bradley Lavelle, Kirk swaggers in and belly flops into the chair as if channeling Shatner on party night. From there on, the show is more confident in recreating the original crew and conjuring familiar phrases with a sparkle in the eye and tongue-in-cheek.
The crew realise that something is wrong with the timeline, with much thrashing about as the ship comes under fire, and embark on a quest through time and space to make things right again. This includes doing the conga and being turned into Scotsmen (did Scotty turn English? I can’t quite recall).
One scene includes a visit to a bar in Pearl Harbour where they fight a sexy-alien assassin in front of an American airman called Roddenberry. His mind is wiped before they go, but something obviously stuck in the corners.
Eventually all in put right. Our Klingon villain has his knuckles wrapped by the High Council on Kronus. If Kirk had ceased to exist they wouldn’t have known who he was when the desperado approached them for his reward.
And thus ended the stage version of Star Trek. The show never made the switch to West End glory and models built by Derek Meddings company were shuttled off to one exhibition or another. In many respects it has become a forgotten piece of Star Trek history.
Looking back, you can almost imagine a “Curse of Trek” afflicting the show. At least two cast members died young.
Captain Kirk Bradley “Ivan” Lavelle was a Canadian actor who had appeared in supporting roles in video games, Supergirl, Superman IV, an assortment of Clive Barker movies, Judge Dredd and Alien Autopsy. He died from a heart attack in 2007, aged 48.
Joanne Campbell, who became Uhura for the show, died in 2002 from deep-vein thrombosis, aged 38. She had been noted actress, the first black principle boy in UK theatre, and was feted for Eighties sitcom Me and My Girl and for playing Josephine Baker in This is My Dream.
On the other hand, Sulu is still exploring strange new worlds. Marco Polo star Benedict Wong is taking a bootcamp drill instructors approach to teaching Benedict Cumberbatch the mystic arts in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Should we tell him that’s Khan in his class? Wait, Wong played Kublai Khan?
Star Trek: The Lost Voyage of The Enterprise starred:
Models: Derek Meddings and James Miller
Assisstant Director: Meredith Wright