The War of the Worlds
Presented by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company, written with Isley Lynn
Co-produced by Brighton Festival, HOME Manchester
23 September 2021 to 2 October 2021; run time two hours
Orson Welles’ legendary radio version of The War of the Worlds is often cited as a prime example of fake news.
His 1938 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ work of science fiction, using supposedly “live”news bulletins, was said to have convinced many listeners that Martians actually had landed on Earth. Were the contemporary news reports of mass hysteria, however, in themselves deliberately exaggerated?
In the furore that followed, Welles claimed that his broadcast was presented in real time for artistic effect. Today we associate fake news, a term much used by a certain former President about US journalism, more with propaganda deployed for political purposes. The internet rather than radio is now its medium.
Rhum and Clay’s play, co-written with Isley Lynn, focuses on the blurring of fact and fiction and the importance of truth by using the Welles’ adaptation and its aftermath as background. The plot brings the theme right up to date by having a young podcaster explore the experiences of one family during that period in the 30s, only to be confronted by modern day use and abuse of communications. Trump, Brexit and more feature. Perhaps the play should have been entitled The War of the Words.
The small cast (Jess Mabel Jones, Gina Isaac, Matt Wells and Julian Spooner) take on multiple roles in a competent but relatively understated way. Movement and mime are important. The set and props consist of little more than a plain backdrop, four pipes, a period radiogram and a number of microphones. Oh, and there is a fair bit of dry ice. The lighting and sound, however, are something special.
Images, shadows, film and video games are projected onto that plain backdrop. There is music from the 30s, clips from that broadcast, ringing mobiles and a strange humming sound. Don’t expect to see tripods, little green men and an alien induced scorched earth on stage in this The War of the Worlds. They are not needed.
Instead, like our young podcaster, you will encounter some thought provoking ethical challenges. You may also find yourself asking the question: why are we still susceptible to fake news? Is it that, as the play suggests, we believe it because we want to believe it?
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