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Review by Dani Watson
Since its publication in 1989, H. G Wells’ pioneering novel The War of The Worlds has spawned various adaptations across film, theatre and television, as well as an infamous 1938 radio broadcast realistic enough to cause alleged mass hysteria. There is something about Wells’ story of Martian invasion which continues to capture the imaginations of creatives across all factions of the arts. The sci-fi classic is reimagined again by writer Laura Lindow, who translates Wells’ epic onto the Northern landscapes of Victorian England – beginning in small seaside village of Alnmouth, where the first extra-terrestrial cylinder is discovered – and moving into Sunderland, Newcastle and Gateshead as the Martian’s terror spreads.
The play is recounted through the intertwining stories of four survivors swept up in the chaos. The program strapline: Ridley, Jill, Boots and Mo are refugees in time. Storytellers. Guides. Echoes from then, sounds in the now. They lived through the 1989 Martian invasion of Newcastle and its surroundings. And they are here, now, to give a warning.
Ridley (Jack Lloyd) acts as the central protagonist. A man of science, he among the first to discover the alien cylinder that has seemingly fallen from the sky and into the sleepy village of Alnmouth. Far from causing alarm, the strange occurrence becomes an object of local curiosity, drawing ever growing crowds of civilians oblivious to the destruction about to befall them. After a tense wait, the play’s first antagonist emerges, ‘greyish’ with ‘oily brown skin’ and equipped with a deadly heat ray that kill indiscriminately. Whole military units and their artillery are incinerated in one blast. What follows is a fight for both Ridley’s survival and sanity as he becomes separated from his wife in the fallout.
Adapting the scope and complexities of Wells’ novel into an hour’s worth of drama, with a minimal cast and staging is no easy feat. The play’s success can be credited largely to the versatility of its four cast members, who switch from character to character with rapid pace, making good use of every minute of stage time. In this stripped back production, Wells’ antagonists are brought to life by a combination of unnerving lighting and sound. The rest is left to the audience’s imagination, often the most powerful tool. Despite the small scale of its production, the play’s groundings in the local landscape, combined with intimacy of the Northern Stage, makes these distant Martians feel too close for comfort.
The War of the Worlds is running at the Northern Stage until 10th of February before touring around other theatres throughout the North East. With just an hour long running time, this is a fast paced and compelling story of human survival well worth the modest ticket price. Go see it.