REVIEW: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (New Diorama Theatre) ★★★★

Isley Lynn’s unusual take on the HG Wells science-fiction classic The War Of The Worlds comes without any Martians but instead focuses of the mythology around Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast and links this to the supposedly modern phenonium of ‘fake news’. The team from Rhum and Clay then weave the 1930s story with a parallel modern story that shows how a fictional history can have a knock-on impact in the real world.

Directors Hamish McDougall and Julian Spooner have worked with movement director Matthew Wells to make the best use of the space at the New Diorama Theatre. With no room for marauding Tripods the cast of Spooner, Wells, Mona Goodwin and Amalia Vitale all take it turns to play a pipe-smoking Orson Welles as well as a host of others involved in, or supposedly effected by the original radio show and it’s reporting of an alien invasion in Grovers Mill, New Jersey.

Interwoven with bringing the past to life British YouTuber Mena (Goodwin) travels to modern day Grovers Mill to investigate a family broken up by the events of 1938 for her podcast. Of course, there are lies and exaggerations in both eras that don’t hold up to scrutiny and soon things begin to unravel.

The physical movement is well choregraphed and enhances the story telling rather than distracting from it. The well-designed set by Bethany Wells, clever sound design by Benjamin Grant and impressive lighting design by Nick Flintoff and Pete Maxey also help bring the different worlds to life with only recording devices and a 1930s radio for props.

All four actors are consistently good and suitably energetic but Spooner was particularly impressive doubling up as reporter Carl Phillips in the Welles radio play and sulky Millennial, Jonathan, who is making a career in Trump-era fake news manufacturing.

Lynn’s script is funny and clever, although Orson Welles’ message of not trusting ‘Opinions pre-digested’ is hammered home somewhat unsubtlety. Welles was an artist trying to make a fictional event feel real whereas fake news now plays a very different and more sinister role in modern life but nonetheless the parallels are interesting and competently explored in this impressive production.

Reviewed by Kris Witherington


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