BWW Review: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, New Diorama Theatre
I confess to entering the theatre with a sense of foreboding. The legend of Orson Welles's The War of the Worlds - the radio broadcast that created panic across the USA, as people were convinced that Martians had landed in New Jersey - has been done to death. So what? It was over 80 years ago and we'd never fall for that these days...
And that's how Rhum & Clay's ensemble piece starts ("We interrupt this broadcast..." etc etc etc). But things change when Mona Goodwin's Youtube influencer and podcaster, Meena, turns up in NJ 2016 following up on a letter that suggests that the Martian Panic produced real victims.
She's soon pretending to be someone she isn't to pursue her investigation and finds herself welcomed into a family who believe her - and also believe the conspiracy stories that (at least partly) fuelled Donald Trump's rise to the Presidency. While Trump campaigns, the internet buzzes with information that is as fictional as Wells's radio broadcast all those years ago, but believed by as many - if not more - and engenders those same fear / panic responses.
The four person cast (Goodwin is joined by Julian Spooner, Amalia Vitale and Matthew Wells) move seamlessly between radio acting, stage acting, mime, even dance and show good comic timing as the dark satire infiltrates the plot. The application of physical theatre's approach to the static discipline of standing by a mic in a studio, really perks things up.
It's smart stuff and its theme - that disruptive new technologies (radio in 1938, social media in 2016) can bring forth unpredictable and malign results - is a good one. But, performed all-through over 80 minutes or so, it needs a little more at stake for the characters in order to keep the ship afloat. We're never quite sure why Meena is so invested in her quest, why the New Jersey family react so strongly in terms of their welcome and subsequent rejection of her and why the disinformation Meena learns of is any different in its impact to thousands of other such sources.
In making their (excellent) point and staging the show in an innovative and engaging style, the company have somewhat neglected to support and drive the narrative at the heart of the action. And, as both HG Wells and GO Welles knew, that's critical to a tale's success.
Photo Dee McCourt (Borkowski Arts)