Review: The War of the Worlds

4 star rating
A cleverly-worked, entertaining and enjoyable production from Rhum & Clay, taking its lead from the 1938 radio drama of the same title, and showing 'fake news' to be nothing new.
The War of the Worlds at New Diorama Theatre

Image: New Diorama Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 9 February 2019

Isley Lynn

Hamish MacDougall and Julian Spooner


Mona Goodwin as Meena

Julian Spooner as Jonathan/ Carl Phillips

Amalia Vitale as Lawson

Matthew Wells as Ted/ John


"No-one would have believed in the early years of the twentieth century that this world was being watched ...”

But they did believe.

They believed that Martians landed in New Jersey.

They believed a water tower was an alien war machine.

They believed a man walked on the moon.

They believed everything the internet trolls told them ...

Inspired by H.G. Wells' sci-novel and Orson Welles' radio adaptation,The War of the Worlds wrestles with the boundaries of truth in a thrilling broadcast of the end of the world.

ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 10 January 2019
Review star rating image

Written with Isley Lynn and devised by the company, this version of The War of the Worlds is from Rhum & Clay, presented in their trademark visual and physical performance style.

It's based on H.G. Wells' science fiction novel of the same title and Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of it.

That radio broadcast created considerable controversy since it mimicked the style of radio news of the day, ostensibly creating panic among the American population who, it's claimed, believed the reports of a Martian invasion (an essential element of the original plot) to be true.

Whether or not Americans panicked en masse and took to the hills in their droves in 1938 to escape being gobbled-up by Martian invaders is questionable - if you're interested, read more about it here.

Rhum & Clay's production certainly touches on the subject of the aftermath of the 1938 broadcast, but their wider point is firmly focused on 'fake news' in general, showing it to be widespread, affecting even our personal and family lives.

At the start of the show we're in a sound studio, lined with those semi-translucent grey panels inset with the glass window of a shadowy control room, suggesting something of a controlling mind at work.

An aged radio provides a visual link with both the historical and technological perspective and gets shuffled along the 'floor' of the studio round the many microphones.

Though proceedings commence with a recreation of Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast, we quickly step out of history and return to the present-day and the investigation of a family story brought-on by the discovery of a letter that seems to offer tantalising content for a modern podcast blogger/ influencer.

That takes us off to America and one of the original locations for the radio show, where we discover a town - Grovers Mill - which has capitalised on its notoriety, ensnaring the many tourists who eagerly visit with Martian burgers at The War of the World's Cafe and the like.

What Rhum & Clay's show tells us about 'fake news' is that it's been around a long time - there's nothing new about it, it's just that there's significantly more of it as more people find opportunities to exploit the insatiable desire of their fellows to learn of intrigue and conspiracies and even the existence of "lizard people".

A talented cast of four deftly slip into the many different roles as the satisfyingly multi-layered and engaging plot unfolds.

High production values figure prominently with excellent work from set designer Bethany Wells, whose impressive radio studio set incorporates doors to effect entrances and exits, and translucent panels that allow for some potent lighting effects from Nick Flintoff and Pete Maxey.

And Benjamin Grant's complex soundscape provides significant embellishment in terms of atmosphere.

There's plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour peppering the piece, providing numerous laugh-out-loud moments, even if it never quite gets to be rolling-in-the-aisles stuff.

Cleverly-worked, entertaining and wholly enjoyable this version of The War of the Worlds is unlikely to create the kind of controversy as Orson Welles' 1938 outing.

But it is a polished and inventive reworking of H.G. Wells' original concept providing an intelligent examination of how human beings can (sometimes) willingly set themselves up as 'victims' of fake news and potentially encourage exploitation.

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