Devised by the company (Rhum + Clay) and written with Isley Lynn, War of the Worlds is a new play inspired by H.G. Wells’ sci-fi novel and Orson Welles’ classic radio play and playfully reimagines the legendary science fiction thriller in an era of Fake News and ‘alternative facts’.
In the sold out performance at Worthing’s Connaught theatre, the staging is effectively stark; a screen of transparent white doors with a gap at the first floor level, to resemble a recording booth, with some microphones on stage, is what the audience sees as the play begins. Four actors, two women and two men, enter, in white tops, dark slacks and holding pipes, to denote that they are all playing the same character of Orson Welles. Moving as one the performers explain how no one really tuned into the beginning of War of the Worlds in 1938 due to the popularity of a radio ventriloquist on another station, which is why so many people thought that a real alien invasion was taking place on that night. The cast reconstruct the beginning of the Orson Welles piece, and show us the aghast listeners who believe the broadcast to be true.
The action then switches to an ambitious contemporary podcaster, Mina Galway, on the cusp of a broadcasting career of her own, if only she can get that elusive big story that would supply a big break. She has found an interesting story about her recently deceased neighbour, Margaret, which connects her to the time and town placed in the centre of the War of the Worlds radio play. But will it be a good enough story to make her a full time journalist and what depths will she have to sink to to please her new bosses and make the story attractive to her listeners?
The piece is performed by it’s players exceptionally well. All four actors morph into a myriad of characters, both English and American, in totally convincing and entertaining ways. Jess Mabel-Jones shines as the ambitious podcaster Mina, and the rest of the small cast are as equally captivating in their roles. The physical aspects of the show are particularly fun to watch as we see different scenes where the actors have to play, freaked out American’s of the 1930’s, Orson Welles, and even dogs in one funny scene. The choreography is exceptional and spellbinding throughout.
Set in 2016, with the backdrop of the American general elections, as the play continues we see how Mina becomes further embroiled in the deception she has to create when exploring Margaret’s story. She travels to the USA to find Margaret’s family and pretends to be a distant family member to ingratiate herself. Here she discovers 21st century propaganda, perpetrated by the son of the family she infiltrates, regarding fake news and the election; an internet deception.
Eighty years on from Orson Welles radio play we see that, in the internet age, we are subject to the same falsehoods, but on a much larger scale. The audience is asked to question what is the truth and what is fiction, and what is fiction disguised as truth. Not much has changed since the 1930’s in this regard. Citizens must be ready to question the veracity of what they hear and see in the media. If they do not they can be led down a cunning path of half-truths, lies and disinformation.
As the piece concludes will Mina conform to the modern click bait media age, or shun the story she has created as false? An inevitable outcome is on the cards, but in an odd way the family at the centre of the story have been brought closer together.
With a serious message at its heart, about fake news, and not taking things on the internet for granted, War of the Worlds explores these complex issues with a playful, and at times, comedic nature, and conveys its message well to an appreciative audience. It is a thoroughly entertaining night out, well worth a watch.
Reviewed on 22nd May