Theatre Review - War of the Worlds

Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds caused panic among certain audience members. News reporters repeatedly interrupted what appeared to be a typical evening of music programmes, to deliver eye-witness accounts of invading aliens. Some listeners had not realised that it was a drama and believed Martians really had landed in New Jersey.

This is the starting point of Rhum and Clay’s multi-layered production. Aided by an ingenious sound design from Benjamin Grant and evocative lighting by Nick Flintoff and Pete Maxey, the four-strong ensemble imaginatively recreate Orsen Wells’ live broadcast.

Then the action shifts to the present day. Meena (Mona Goodwin) is recording a podcast about the repercussions of the radio play. She learns of an American family who briefly abandoned one of their daughters following the broadcast. She decides to try and track down any remaining relatives.

Meena visits the small town of Grover’s Mill, immortalised by Welles, and manages to find the family. Posing as a cousin, she is invited into their home, and discovers Jonathan (Julian Spooner), a savvy student, is creating and distributing fake facts over the internet. When she confronts him, her own desire for sensationalism is exposed.

Isley Lynn’s play is a clever exploration of the enduring fascination of sci-fi, conspiracy theories and the thin line between imagination and reality. It’s also a salutary warning against the ubiquity of fake news. The parallels between HG Wells’ classic, Welles’ thrilling adaption and new media are perceptively teased out.

New Diorama Theatre
Running until 9 February

Originally published by Camden Review