Latest Spaceship Away Reveals A Long Forgotten Dan Dare Stage Play

Spaceship Away Issue 42 - Cover

It was long thought that the only time that Eagle’s Dan Dare officially trod the boards of a British theatre was in the 2003’s Dan Dare: The Musical at the Customs House in South Shields. However another, much earlier, play has recently come to light.

In 1972 Dan Dare: A Space Adventure, featuring Alex Leppard as Dan Dare, Mary Sheen as The Mekon and Maurice Colbourne from BBC TV’s Howard’s Way as Sondar, was staged at London’s then new Half Moon Theatre. Officially authorised by IPC, the then Dan Dare copyright owner, the play was written and directed by the Theatre’s co-founder Michael Irving, who also portrayed Spacefleet Controller Sir Hugh (not Hubert Guest, as in the comics) on stage.

A poster for Dan Dare: A Space Adventure. Art by Caroline Struthers
A poster for Dan Dare: A Space Adventure. Art by Caroline Struthers (now Caroline Irving)

downthetubes’ Jeremy Briggs tracked Michael down to ask him about this previously unrecorded piece of Dan Dare and Eagle history (outside of some contemporary reviews and SF zines of the time that mention it, such as Checkpoint, digitally archived on the Ansible web site).

Jeremy’s article on the play, and Michael’s memories of it, are featured in the new issue of Spaceship Away (Issue 42), on sale now.

Alex Leppard as Dan Dare and Michael Colbourne as Sondar in Dan Dare: A Space Adventure. Photo by Ron McCormick
Alex Leppard as Dan Dare and Michael Colbourne as Sondar in Dan Dare: A Space Adventure. Photo by Ron McCormick

The Half Moon Threatre web site has some information on the play here and there are some video interviews with some of the crew included below.

The cast for the show were Alex Leppard (as Dan Dare, who went on to appear in the film The House That Vanished and has enjoyed a TV career that includes roles in Tripods, Bugs, and The Bill), Terrence Dougherty (Digby), Jeffrey Hooper (Hank, an actor, writer and director instrumental in the beginnings of Half Moon Theatre in Alie Street), Maurice Colbourne (Sondar / Treen, co-founder of Half Moon, who went on to appear in TV series such as The Oneidin LineDoctor Who and Van de Valk but died in 1989), Michael Irving (Sir Hugh), Mary Sheen (The Mekon), Nick Oke (Elektrobot), Eddie Selby (Selektrobot) and David Dormand (as the Mekon’s Chair, also a sound designer).

Music for the show was the work of Simon Jeffes, who went on to form the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who died in 1997, the victim of an inoperable brain tumour; and now record producer Rupert Hine. Could this be the now legendary record producer?

Caroline Struthers, who created the props, costumes and poster for the show went on to marry Michael Irving and is now Caroline Irving.

Jeremy’s article offers a terrific insight into the show although, sadly, we can reveal a script has yet to be found as the Royal Holloway at the University of London, which holds the Half Moon Theatre archive, does not have a copy, and a spokesperson for Half Moon Young People’s Theatre they don’t have a copy in their archives “and the original cast members no longer have copies either, so we’re not aware of one”.

Founded in 1972, Half Moon’s wide-ranging programme today reaches 50,000 people annually and engages those who are often excluded from arts activity. Our activity includes a season of professional plays for young audiences, national touring productions and an extensive creative learning programme, including seven youth theatres.

Also featured in this issue of Spaceship Away, featuring a cover by Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell and a back cover pin-up by Don, are:

Strips

Spaceship Away Issue 42 - Dan Dare: Shakedown Cruise by Tim Booth

Dan Dare: Shakedown Cruise Episodes 5 – 8 by Tim Booth

Tim Booth’s new adventures of the original Dan Dare continue, with added Stripey and a feisty relation of Professor Peabody’s!

"Operation Pintos " Part One by Gordon Coombs, art by Harry Winslade

• “Operation Pintos ” Part One by Gordon Coombs, art by Harry Winslade

Presumably from Express Weekly (no source is mentioned), the art by Harry Winslade – profiled here on Bear Alley – is superb.

Spaceship Away Issue 42 - John Russell Fearn's The Golden Amazon

• John Russell Fearn’s The Golden Amazon

Written by Philip Harbottle, with art by Ron Turner, coloured by Martin Baines

• “Davy Rocket”

A one-page, uncredited humour strip

Jet Ace Logan Interceptor. Art © TimeUK
Jet Ace Logan Interceptor. Art © TimeUK

Features

• Jet Ace Logan

Andrew Darlington explores the character’s fascinating history, from Comet to Tiger and Beyond. This is a terrific guide to a character who has been around almost as long as Dan Dare and offers a fascinating insight into his publication history.

• The Delaware – a cutaway by Graham Bleathman

• The History of Early Rockets Part 2

• An introduction to John Russell Fearn’s The Golden Amazon

Written by John himself

• Ron Turner’s Tit-Bits Science Fiction Comics

An excellent guide by Philip Harbottle

Spaceship Away is available to buy on subscription at spaceshipaway.org.uk

• For those of you intrigued by Jeremy Briggs fab article on the 1972 Dan Dare stage play, there’s a feature, including video interviews on the Half Moon Theatre web site here – and here are three video interviews with writer and director Michael Irving, actor Jeffrey Hooper and Mary Sheen, who played The Mekon 

Michael Irving talks about Dan Dare from Half Moon Theatre on Vimeo

Jeffrey Hooper talks about Dan Dare from Half Moon Theatre on Vimeo

Mary Sheen talks about Dan Dare from Half Moon Theatre on Vimeo

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a “freelance comics operative”, currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.

John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.

He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.

Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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