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BWW Reviews: BRAVE NEW WORLD, Royal and Derngate, September 8 2015

William Postlethwaite as John the Savage (PHOTO: Manuel Harlan)" height="480" src="" width="415" />
Gruffud Glyn as Bernard and William Postlethwaite as John the Savage
(PHOTO: Manuel Harlan)

Royal and Derngate's 2015 Made in Northampton Season continues with the world premiere of a new adaptation of Aldous Huxley's modern classic novel BRAVE NEW WORLD. Set in a dystopian near future, its themes about freedom and enforced happiness resonate with today's connected, smart-phone infested society.

Bernard Marx is an alpha, but he doesn't quite seem to fit in. Babies are created and grown in labs and monogamous relationships have been outlawed, but no-one in the free love society seems very interested in sleeping with him. When he takes a trip to the Savage Reservation with beta Lenina, they find a woman who was separated from her tour party years before - and her son. Bernard is suddenly the toast of the town when he returns John the Savage and his mother to society - but what effect will this have on them and the residents of World State?

One of the biggest challenges of adapting this novel (as with anything set in a fantasy/futuristic world) was going to be setting up how society functions. In a novel, you can dripfeed details across the first 50 pages as necessary, without the dreaded info-dump. The danger on stage is of some terribly stilted dialogue, stating facts that the characters wouldn't need to articulate - we've all heard it: "Oh, you can't do that, X, as you know that is forbidden for people of your caste" that sort of thing. Dawn King has worked around this by framing her adaptation with a presentation to new recruits to the London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. It's a device that works well at the start, but I think the play would have had the same effect (and possibly more impact) without using it again at the end.

But in the main I thought this adaptation worked well, in particular when it came to contrasting John the Savage with the inhabitants of World State. William Postlethwaite is a magnetic presence, but he is helped by being given lots of brilliant Shakespearean dialogue - and when he's not quoting Shakespeare directly, his words have a different rhythm and feel to all the other characters, which creates a feeling of otherness - even when he's been dressed and groomed to look like an Alpha. There are several other strong performances in this too - including Sophie Ward, who I would like to have seen more of.

This is a very well designed production, making good use of projections and music to build the world and create different moods. A lot of thought has clearly gone into costume design with the structure of society demonstrated by the clothes of the inhabitants. Bernard's status is a misfit is shown by his ill-fitting suit and messy shirt (particularly important as Gruffudd Glyn is not the shortest of the Alphas so that can't be used as one of the causes of his insecurities as it is in the book) and after he brings John back to the "civilised world" he is transformed - at least temporarily.

Overall this is an interesting and thought provoking production, which picks up pace once the world is established and works best after the arrival of Postlethwaite's Savage.

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