The War of the Worlds
New Diorama Theatre
Reviewed – 10th January 2019
“without doubt visually and technically strong; occasionally, however, it feels as though something important is missing”
As innovative as he was, it is doubtful that H. G. Wells foresaw his most famous work – often referred to as “the first sci-fi novel” – being even remotely related to debates about the 2016 US elections, lizard people, and whether or not you’re allowed to vape at the dinner table. But, in their reimagining of Wells’ classic novel, Rhum and Clay have done just that. A story about Martians has become a story about the truth, and which version of it we choose to believe.
The War of the Worlds tells three stories simultaneously. The first is derived from Wells’ novel, detailing the Martians’ invasion of Earth. The second is the story behind Orson Welles’ 1938 radio adaptation of the novel, which was so realistic that it allegedly caused mass panic amongst the American public. Finally, in the present day, British blogger Meena travels to Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, to explore the effect of this hysteria on a local family – but goes far deeper than she intended. It won’t please those looking for a faithful adaptation of the novel, but the three stories fit together coherently and bring out aspects of each other well. Despite the sometimes tenuous connection between Meena’s narrative and the source material, it is an unexpectedly insightful way of exploring contemporary concerns about fake news and political paranoia.
The weaker moments are often strengthened by an energetic and committed cast. Mona Goodwin makes Meena a likeable character, who is naïve and earnest despite the self-serving nature of her project. Julian Spooner brings a sense of urgency, particularly through his portrayal of news reporter Carl Phillips; Matthew Wells’ gravitas grounds the action during its more melodramatic moments. Of the four, Amalia Vitale is the most captivating, particularly in the role of Lawson. She has an amazing stage presence: even when she is only a background character, it is hard not to watch her. Set designer Bethany Wells must also be credited for her simple yet effective stage. The translucent walls that surround the space help create a sense of artificiality; the way they obscure the characters’ movements adds a sinister edge.
That being said, there are still some elements of the show that are a little difficult to be enthusiastic about. It has a lot to say about relevant and exciting topics, yet the ending does not tie these things together as effectively as it should. Meena’s story in particular feels a little rushed and unfinished. It is without doubt visually and technically strong; occasionally, however, it feels as though something important is missing.
Rhum and Clay have successfully given an oft-told story a new sense of relevance. Although the final product does not fully do justice to their vision, it is still entertaining, insightful, and above all an effective immersion into a sinister and intriguing world – one that is far closer than we think.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by The Other Richard
The War of the Worlds
New Diorama Theatre until 9th February
Previously reviewed at this venue: