The War of the Worlds – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Writer: Tin Robot Theatre based on the book by H G Wells

Director: Adam Carver

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Given any successful extra-terrestrial alien invasion needs be predicated on said bug-eyed monsters having, in Wells’ words, ‘minds immeasurably superior to ours,’ it begs the question why his tripodal Martians didn’t think to have a flu-jab before trashing up Horsell Common.

Wells’ fin-d’siècle apocalypse with a get-out-of chaos microbe twist took on hubristic resonance for a Western world far too wrapped up in its self-assured taming of Science and Nature: The Titanic, WW1 and the Russian Revolution soon torpedoed those icons of misfortune with a vengeance.

Then along came namesake, fake-news enfant terrible, Orson Wells, with his 1938 eponymous radio thriller. Unbelievably, almost forty years ago, no one would have believed that in the latter part of the 1970s that Jeff Wayne’s star-studded musical interpretation would take the tired trope of concept album to the outer limits.

Now it seems, contemporary trends in fake news/conspiracy theory are inevitable constructs feeding on the once-Cold-War hysteria meme where flying saucers became displacement release for ‘Reds-under-the-bed’ paranoia. Alternatively, Remainers/Brexiteers, fear for the ‘rout of civilisation,’Midland-based theatre company Tin Robot Theatre, resident at the Old Joint Stock and all about ‘full-fat’ theatre take all these to the shouty limits of incredibility and inner-space neurosis. It’s time for Mankind to get their butts seriously heat-ray-zapped with some alien attitude.

The novel’s protagonist/narrator, Pearson (Touwa Craig-Dunn) isolated in his dead parents’ basement desperately scans the short-wave radio frequencies for any contacts. So much for social multi-media saving the world. Here is where the ingenious construct of the company’s singular reimagining comes in. The audience is provided with wireless headsets – blue monitor lights twinkle disturbingly throughout the performance. A cypher perhaps symbolising the obedience of the compliant ‘automata’? Predicating the predatory reveal of the Martian’s intentions – human-blood crop husbandry. Everyone goes along – resistance is useless.

Serendipity smiles on tonight’s performance as, with technical wizardry, they splice in the previous week’s hurricane red sky meteorological phenomena. Bookmarked by this and the tedious ubiquity of Hallowe’en R Us relentless commercialisation, there is a salutary reminder that Wells wrote a damnably fine horror story that set the bench-mark for subsequent apocalyptical genre variations such asThe TriffidsInvasion of Body Snatchers, 28 Hours et al. The Forbidden Planet, with Bebe and Louis Barron’s revolutionary sound-track ‘electronical tonalities’, might well have lent inspiration to tonight’s soundscapes. A film that subverted the convention by portraying the monster as the alien Id from within.

With Pearson, the audience is immersed in the shared claustrophobic inner-space of increasingly compressed hysteria as disparate news reports tell of bizarre weather and mass disruption. He makes contact with anonymous survivors based on those in the novel. As they relate the cataclysmic events unfolding above ground he updates his make-shift noticeboard – forced to reassess his meticulously compiled news clippings that he now realises were heavily censored. His notice-board becomes a displacement construct, a mind-map schema diverting impending hysteria or detection. Pearson’s fears, both intellectual and existential, are compounded by his utter reliance on the information he receives. Whose truths and survival strategies can he trust – the Apocalypse Bible quoting curate? The increasingly manic artilleryman who promises a brave new underground world to thwart the Martian’s designs?

An intense seventy minutes, an ingenious conceit. Disturbingly prescient, Tin Robot taps into contemporary mores with subliminal, subversive guile – Touwa Craig-Dunn’s Pearson becomes the Everyman surrogate for our collective nightmares. Well worth a punt and selling out shows already.

Runs until 31 October 2017 | Image: Layne Cooper

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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