‘Engaging, entertaining & brilliant’: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS – New Diorama Theatre ★★★★★

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Carole WoddisLeave a Comment

New Diorama Theatre, London – until 9 February 2019

There is something about artists who train at Ecole Jacques Lecoq. They seem to reach places other actors can’t or haven’t even thought about reaching. Thus it was with Complicite in the beginning and one of Lecoq’s latest alumni turns out to be the founding fathers of a company I probably should have seen before but haven’t.

Definitely my loss, Rhum and Clay was formed by Julian Spooner with Matthew Wells after meeting and studying at Jacques Lecoq. Since then, in 2011, Spooner has co-created or performed in all nine of Rhum and Clay’s productions which have included a version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 64 Squares, Testosterone and a recently acclaimed revival of Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo with Spooner as the eponymous Buffo.

But in this age of ‘fake’ news, they’ve now turned their attention to the HG Wells sci-fi novel which in 1938, under the helm of Orson Welles, made his name and became infamous causing public panic when broadcast as part of a CBS drama series, the Mercury Theatre on the Air.

Although clearly previewed as a radio drama, Welles took the highly unusual step at the time of simulating a live news broadcast intercutting the narrative with increasingly dramatic news reports supposedly from correspondents and experts apparently sighting a Martian landing in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. Such was it realism, the belief that Martians had landed and were invading the USA did apparently spread – which is where Rhum and Clay have decided to pick up the story.

Not only do they reproduce the opening passages as if a CBS broadcast but start to interleave that narrative with another – a young woman finding a family letter which connects her grandmother’s claim that she was abandoned by her family in the panic created by the broadcast. She goes to New Jersey wishing to discover ‘the truth’. Further developments lead us to the contemporary creation of ‘fake’ news in family bedrooms by young techies because ‘they can’.

But the description of Rhum and Clay’s storyline hardly does credit to the experience itself. What is joyous to behold is how they take the bare bones of this story and turn it into a theatrical experience of such bold acuteness and physical invention it leaves you constantly on the edge of your seat.

© The Other Richard, Julian Spooner and crew, winding up the broadcast of The War of the Worlds…

Fast paced and created with hand-held mics, lighting and a fabulous array of technical acting skills, Rhum and Clay take us on a journey into radio stations, into states of anxiety and out to Grover’s Mill New Jersey.

By virtue of actually having visited the town, now inundated by tourists drawn to the site, Spooner has brought back a whole armoury of characters – shopkeepers, bystanders, residents – evoked with pitch perfect style by his trio of colleagues: Matthew Wells, Moona Goodwin and Amalia Vitale.

Given Infinite scope for caricature, the Lecoq/Rhum and Clay approach rather goes for subtlety and discipline, humour and insight arising from character observation. In many respects, their work does indeed remind me of watching Complicite in its early format, so sharp and precise the physicality, so light the touch.

© The Other Richard, Julian Spooner as Jonathan and Mona Goodwin as Meena, visiting from England to find out the truth about her grandmother and Jonathan explaining how easy to write fake content on his blog…

I loved Spooner, a mesmerising performer, as the American family’s `nerdy’ son, Jonathan, every nerve a-twitch with corrosive technical know-how, falsifying content simply because it’s earning him big bucks; and Amalia Vitale as his dead-pan, wise-cracking mother with more than a touch of Frances McDormand about her.

Explicitly, the show is about a gullible American public being taken in by a clever director – Welles – and believing what comes out of the then, fairly new fangled technology, the radio.

© The Other Richard, Amalia Vitale and Rhum and Clay cast broadcasting to the nation…

Rhum and Clay’s writer Isley Lynn with directors Hamish MacDougall and Spooner and the company are too wily to leave it there, however, and implicitly complete the picture by bringing it up to date in the here and now in faltering GB, by what we choose to believe and how and where we hear it.

It’s a dangerous world out there but this engaging, entertaining and brilliant War of the Worlds couldn’t come at a better time as a reminder to practise caution and scepticism before buying into any hyped up scenario.

Required viewing. Don’t miss!

The War of the Worlds

Written with Isley Lynn
Devised by Rhum and Clay

Cast:

Meena: Mona Goodwin
Jonathan/Carl Phillips: Julian Spooner
Lawson: Amalia Vitale
Ted/John: Matthew Wells

Writer: Isley Lynn
Directors: Hamish MacDougall & Julian Spooner
Movement: Matthew Wells
Set & Costume Design: Bethany Wells
Lighting Design: Nick Flintoff & Pete Maxey
Sound Design: Benjamin Grant
Executive Producer: Sally Cowling
Producer: Hannah Tookey

Presented by Rhum & Clay.
Commissioned by the New Diorama Theatre

World premiere of this version of The War of the Worlds by Rhum & Clay at New Diorama, London on Jan 9, 2019. Runs to Feb 9, 2019

Review published on this site, January 12, 2019

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Carole Woddis on Twitter
Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.
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Carole Woddis on Twitter
Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.

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