Brighton Fringe 2018
Classic HG Wells gets a smart, energetic adaptation: as British as a cup of tea, as fast paced and silly as an episode of Tiswas.
There may be all manner of things that a potential audience member may want from a fringe show, and annoyingly, those many things may not always match: some may be on the lookout for something silly and fun, while others may want an adaptation of a classic. Still others may need something silly and fast paced for the kids, but yet others, short on precious time, may have had their heart set on a piece that’s elegant and stuffed with gags on the current political climate. You can probably see where we’re going with this: it’s somewhat difficult to commit to the fringe spirit, and to take the plunge on something when it may not satisfy the needs of everyone in your group.
You can probably also guess the second point we’re lumbering towards: The Panatloons’ fizzy, wide-eyed and boisterous adaptation of The War Of The Worlds is hugely successful – it’s an affectionate, fun filled take on the HG Wells classic book, while at the same time maintaining a healthy (lack of) respect for the source material. It’s telling that very few previous adaptations (from the Tom Cruise movie to Independence Day) have fully embraced the sheer Britishness of the 1898 sci-fi novel. Not here, however: many of the early scenes are represented by the paraphernalia an English gentleman might procure from his breakfast table, including tea urn and morning newspaper. In one pivotal sequence, that icon of British sensibility – the humble brolly – is used to great effect. It’s possible that this concept – using everyday mundane British things to represent something else – could have been leaned into even further, but then again, the stage is delightfully cluttered and complicated enough already. And anyway, at least the scientist Oglivy is introduced wearing an item of clothing that any self-respecting genre TV fan of the 70s and 80s would recognise.
The Pantaloons at their best when improvising, or riffing on a prop fail. This is precisely the kind of thing that risks setting an audience’s teeth on edge: more often than not, it can come across as self indulgent, that the cast are having more fun than the audience. That’s not the case here, however, because – as is the case with all decent improvising – it looks like they’re genuinely mind-reading, and never going off script at the cost of a fellow cast member’s lines. The sheer energy and verve of the group will convince you that this is a group of significantly more than four, and there are sequences that hint at something tender. The kitchen utensil props, coupled with the opening and coda scenes, suggest that the thing that truly wins the battle is that the humans – unlike the invaders – have a home.
The War Of The Worlds is a breathless, unmissable parody – which you’ve just missed: the Brighton Fringe was the last outing of the tripods. But as calling cards go, it’s outstanding: The Pantaloons have a couple more fresh adaptations of classics coming up in the next few months, and on the strength of this, it’s very tempting to take the plunge on any of their upcoming shows with little or no other information. I look forward to regarding their next work with envious eyes.