This isn’t The War of the Worlds that many will know and love. But with slick execution and an eerily relevant script, the aliens prove to be the least unnerving enemy within this adaption. Katherine Knight reviews:

It’s the end of the world.

But it isn’t. Not really.

War Worlds Pleasance Courtyard
Matt Wells & Julian Spooner (image courtesy of Richard Davenport)

In 2016, with elections springing up both sides of the Atlantic, many felt like the world was falling apart. In 1938, a radio broadcast made many believe the end of the world was already here. It might seem a stretch to link Orson Welles’ radio production of The War Of The Worlds to the current political climate. Aliens are conspicuous by their absence in this production.

There are, in fact, zero aliens on stage at any one time.

War Worlds Pleasance Courtyard
Image courtesy of Richard Davenport

Needless to say, this isn’t the traditional retelling of the H.G. Wells classic. Isley Lynn’s script shifts deftly between past and present, England and America in all its various iterations and combinations – from the original radio broadcast to a starkly real Sky News alien invasion. It shows what could have been and what might still be.

Did people flee at the original broadcast, or was this yet another example of a fake story, a headline made up to sell more copies?

War Worlds Pleasance Courtyard
Image courtesy of Richard Davenport

The War Of The Worlds is slippery – layers of narrative float between one other with ease but not confusion. And it provides an insight into the psyche of the fake news writer, too – is it really Welles’ fault if people believed the original broadcast? Whose responsibility is it if people believe fake news?

Rhum and Clay’s show isn’t at all preachy or patronising, or even (one or two jabs aside) particularly politically motivated. In fact, what stands out about this interpretation is its refusal to look down upon its audience. It doesn’t ask the obvious questions, or berate the consumption of fake news, but considers the why and the how, the authors behind the stories and how these things unexpectedly snowball together.

War Worlds Pleasance Courtyard
Image courtesy of Richard Davenport

The War Of The Worlds is an incredibly polished production in every aspect. Visually it’s stunning, a show that benefits from a high production budget but doesn’t rely upon it, preferring to use genuine innovation and the best sides of technology to illustrate the worst. Nick Flintoff and Pete Maxey‘s lighting enhances the message rather than distracting, and while it’s clever it’s not for the sake of being tricksy. Switches between past and present are illustrated with muted sepia and blue-white tones, as orange-bright flames dance and play against a white metal backdrop.

War Worlds Pleasance Courtyard
Image courtesy of Richard Davenport

Excellent performances from the four-strong cast are well balanced. There are some strong and humorous character parts, including a New Jersey waitress and at one point a pair of barking dogs, but The War Of the Worlds is best as an ensemble effort. The singular Orson Welles is found through a four-fold, pipe-smoking incarnation; a friendly yet horribly unnerving family shows exterior warmth with only the smallest glimmers of underlying tension, the small talk building towards a precipice.

It’s this subtlety that makes the whole show so unnerving, and by the end, still intentionally perplexing as to who is right. After all, how can anyone possibly know what’s real?

★★★★★

The War Of The Worlds is now playing at Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.