The first brave thing about this new show is the decision to do it.
Aldous Huxley’s novel was groundbreaking in 1931. But 700 episodes of ‘Star Trek’ later, his futuristic story seems strangely dated. Science Fiction can be tricky to pull off on stage. The lack of cinematic resources can give it an air of a low budget B movie. So, in their new production, the Touring Consortium Theatre Company has wisely focussed on the ethos rather than the effects.
Dawn King’s adaptation is doubtless an authentic, if deeply filleted, representation of Mr Huxley’s intentions. Perhaps she is too reverential, as she takes the curious decision to open the show by lecturing the audience. We are being shown round the Fertilisation Room of the World State Head Quarters, where people are painlessly produced and programmed for their designated roles in their sad, meaningless lives; where God, love and poetry are long redundant. Huxley envisioned the pyramid structure that now dominates our commercial and political lives. You only need so many Alpha leaders, so why create more? It’s all carefully controlled. But mishaps do happen …which brings us on to misfit Bernard. His genes were cross-caste, making him so unpopular even the computerised lift ignores him.
It also becomes clear that the Alpha oligarchy doesn’t rule everywhere. There are Shakespeare-spouting savages beyond the bounds; and when recalcitrant Bernard takes an electric blond scientist, Lenina, to see them, she falls for one called John. Opps! That’s not supposed to happen.
What follows is the classic story of an interloper undermining the status quo. And needless to say it all ends in tears.
The production is clear but strangely sterile; including the erotic ballet. The test tube characters, quite intentionally, have no soul – and the cruddy outsiders flagellate themselves; making it hard to empathise with either society. For ‘Brave’ read ‘Bleak’. If this is the future, please bring back Queen Victoria. I didn’t feel in the least emotionally engaged. But, given the scenario, that may be just the effect director James Dacre was after.
Much of the live action is ‘head on’, as if on screen, and occasionally Dacre throws his hands in the air and switches on the projectors.
In such adverse conditions, the performers shine brightly. William Postlethwaite’s ‘John’ is raw and edgy and suitably out of kilter; while Olivia Morgan succeeds admirably in giving plastic ‘Lenina’ self-doubt, passion and pain, where none should exist. And the original musical score by These New Puritans is an inventive, energetic treat.
It’s a tough assignment for everyone concerned; a play that happens in the head rather than the heart. The irony is that every observation I make here merely underlines what a faithful job they have made of representing such a difficult book.
This show is never going to be a crowd pleaser…but neither was Huxley’s vision.
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