February 16, 2016

The War of the Worlds – Alive on Stage: Martians Dominate at the Dominion

Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds makes its London debut, photo courtesy of Everything Theatre
             Greetings, earthlings! I feel like I’ve been on another planet with my blogging hiatus, but I’m back! The past few months have been rather hectic. My university dissertation took priority and then I graduated in December (hoorah)! The Christmas season was upon us shortly afterwards, which was swiftly followed by a flat move.

             I have a lot of exciting events coming up, especially without the constraints of university work limiting my explorations. There is the small matter of me now getting a job in the real world, but until then, London is once again my playground. I feel like I have been released into the city with new eyes of appreciation. While my student Oyster card has since expired, my passion for London has been reignited into a roaring fire that cannot be put out. 

             What better way to get back into my blogging than with a new production on the London theatre circuit – Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds – Alive on Stage?

             The Dominion Theatre, which previously housed We Will Rock You, has received an extraterrestrial takeover. This is not a musical as such, nor does it aim to be. After reading H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, Wayne said he “could already hear sound.” In 1978, a double album was released in the UK and 15 million copies have been sold worldwide.

             Wells’ novel was featured in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897 and elicited fear, and continues to do so, in its readers. Perhaps Martians seemed like a distant threat back in those days. With the looming progress of artificial intelligence and the insistence on creating (why, I have no idea) a sentient being, perhaps this adaptation comes at a particularly befitting time.

             The orchestra, conducted by Wayne himself, is a constant presence on the stage, which makes it unique to most shows. Rather than a story accompanied by music, The War of the Worlds is predominantly a musical spectacle. The ominous synth and rock vibes are what narrate and drive the story. 

             The star-studded cast consists of Liam Neeson as George Herbert, the journalist (by way of projector screen), Michael Praed as Herbert on stage, David Essex as the voice of Humanity, Jimmy Nail as Parson Nathaniel, Heidi Range from the band Sugababes as his wife, and Daniel Bedingfield as the Artilleryman.

             I must not forget to include the Martian Fighting Machine, which commands the audience’s attention with its fly-like eyes and skeletal metal body. It was built by Brilliant Stages, who are art directed by artist and sculptor Jacqui Pyle.

 The Martian Fighting Machine in all its gargantuan glory, photo courtesy of The War of the Worlds
             Together with the pulsating hum of “wheeoo, wheeoo,” a glowing green beacon, and a deleterious heat ray, the Martian Flying Machine is really rather intimidating. I half expected for it to take on a life of its own and clamber off the stage to zap us all to charred smithereens.

             As for the set design of The War of the Worlds, Stufish Entertainment Architects worked their magic. Automated machines, large-scale puppets, multimedia projection, and kinetic staging make this an immersive theatre experience.

             Ultimately though, in this tale of Martian domination, this version of The War of the Worlds decides to focus on the basic human instinct of survival and also of prevailing hope. As Bedingfield sings in “Brave New World” with enviable falsetto: “But maybe from the madness, something beautiful will grow, in a Brave New World, with just a handful of men, we’ll start all over again…”

             I’m reminded of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which is set in 2540. In the novel, sexual promiscuity is the law and emotional attachment is illegal, which really doesn’t sound too out of place in this generation’s casual approach to relationships, or lack of them. In my opinion, we’ve most definitely surpassed George Orwell’s 1984. We are indeed “One Nation Under CCTV,” as elusive street artist Banksy illustrated.

In 2008, Banksy sent a message with this mural in central London, photo courtesy of Marcin Kruk
             In 2016, are we headed for a rise-up of machines? I’m all for having my own Baymax as seen in Big Hero 6, or even a Chappie from the movie of the same name. These are robots we can sympathize with and even come to love, but what about the invisible monsters? Ironically, bacteria end up being the downfall of the Martians in The War of the Worlds. Perhaps humankind could also be vanquished by something just as insidious. The iconic score of this stage production is frantic enough to make you seriously ponder this quandary and question your very existence.

             Book tickets for The War of the Worlds – Alive on Stage until April 2016 here.

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