BWW Review: WAR WITH THE NEWTS, The Bunker Theatre

BWW Review: WAR WITH THE NEWTS, The Bunker Theatre

BWW Review: WAR WITH THE NEWTS, The Bunker TheatreThere's a palaver getting in - immersive theatre can be a bit like that - but soon we're sitting in the hull of an oyster trawler en route to The Colony and, it seems, salvation. We are the survivors, the humans who have escaped the newts' onslaught, at sea (there's a lot more sea now) and we're about to find out how it all happened.

The play is billed as by Tyrrell Jones, after Karel Capek, and I've already bought the 1936 novel that provided the inspiration, so fascinating and grimly relevant does it appear in 2018. Quite how I had missed hearing about so eerie an alternate history book, I do not know, but props to Knaïve Theatre for bringing it up to date with a searing vitality.

Humankind discovered the newts deep in the ocean, exploited their capacity to learn, underestimated their intelligence and were unable to resist when the newts demanded lebensraum, their engineering skills having developed nuclear weapons of their own.

A torrent of references runs through your mind: the seductive lure of fascism; the easy accommodation the West made with slavery (and its repercussions today); the power of technology delivered into the hands of those with malevolent intent. And much, much more. This is proper brain food but that does not mean it's the equivalent of sprouts and broccoli!

That's because we get a wonderfully theatrical experience through which the tale is told. Video is used sparingly and wisely, talking heads leading us through the play's episodic structure. Robert Bentall's music and sound keeps us off-kilter and claustrophobically trapped and Hannah Sibai's set is post-industrially unnerving, all bright plastic crates with the whiff of oysters and seawater about it.

The three actors work hard in multiple roles which never get confusing - other companies please note.

Nadi Kemp-Sayfi excels in giving voice to those whose jobs have been lost to the newt workforce, the freedom from the grind of manual labour replaced by a prison of closed down options and the tyranny of just too much time to fill.

Everal A Walsh's turn as the lawyer representing the newts in their negotiations with the UN, is both spinechilling in its accuracy and plausible in its defence of their demands. Typical of the production, we can't really decide if he's a goodie or a baddie.

Sam Redway's Boris Johnson tribute act as the bumbling, out-manoeuvred Brit who surrenders his country ("but let me keep London") is a slice of satire that is playing out in the news day after day.

There are times when it feels a little forced - not sure why life jackets were handed out at one points and the glitching of the characters as the scenes dipped into "forbidden archives" felt a little unnecessary - but this is compelling theatre delivered in an almost perfectly suited venue. Under 30s can see it for £10, which buys a bucket of popcorn and a sugary drink down the multiplex. Spend the tenner on this instead - you won't regret it.

War With The Newts is at the Bunker Theatre until 27 October.

Photo The Other Richard

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From This Author Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief reviewer for westend.broadwayworld.com and feels privileged to see so much of London's theatre. He writes about cricket at for 99.94 (nestaquin.wordpress.com) (read more...)

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