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Edinburgh Fringe 2019

The War of the Worlds

Rhum and Clay in association with the Pleasance

Genre: Adaptation, Physical Theatre

Venue: Pleasance


Low Down

“‘No-one would have believed in the early years of the twentieth century that this world was being watched…’ But we did believe. Written with Isley Lynn (Skin A Cat) and inspired by Orson Welles’ radio broadcast, The War of the Worlds explores the ongoing power of fake events to cause real reactions. Intense, unsettling and entertaining, this super-smart and multi-layered show proves that in dark times the truth is a precious commodity.”


Fake news is a popular and wary topic these days and The War of the Worlds, a sci-fi novel by H.G. Wells was adapted for Orson Welles’ entertaining radio broadcast series in 1938, and was perhaps, the first well-known foray into reporting fake events to a large population, across the United States.

Rhum & Clay have created their own adaptation of the radio broadcast, written with Isley Lynn and directed by co-directors Hamish MacDougall & Julian Spooner, but they have taken it a few steps further and invented a modern parallel that is its own original story.

Starting with an extremely abridged recreation of the original broadcast in America, in the centre of the stage is a large old-fashioned radio and the cast of four are reporting and commenting on an exciting event – a Martian invasion! This was reported live as it was ‘happening’ in Grover’s Mill, a small town in New Jersey, and since then this story has become part of American urban legend and pop culture.

Cut to more recent times, and the four actors change into different characters that start a fascinating story in motion. The setting is still in the business of broadcasting, and Meena, an up and coming reporter is prompted by her station manager to find real stories, that use her talents and produce stronger interviews. In the meantime, Grovers Mill has developed as a bit of a tourist attraction and Meena visits it.

We meet many characters over the development of this play that are all played by the cast with rapid transitions from one to the other, in one location or time period and back to another. Rhum & Clay is known for its inventive staging and devising incorporating adept physical theatre – and the movement and physical storytelling in this production is excellent. This show is also very theatrical with dialogue from a range of home-town inhabitants that is so well written and authentic, it’s scary! Small town family life and the characters are banal and typical, for a while.

Meena (Jess Mabel Jones) comes across a family: Parents (Amalia Vitale and Matthew Well) and their college age son Jonathan (Julian Spooner). Meena keeps in mind her station manager’s advice or rather, orders and interviews one person that leads to another and another…

Last Year Rhum & Clay presented the solo show Mistero Buffo at the Edinburgh Fringe, performed by Julian Spooner and directed by Nicholas Pitt, which deservedly won awards for the Tour de Force production. This year the company and four-person cast have collaborated and created a wonderfully unpredictable, intertwined and original piece of theatre that incorporates superb physical theatre and visual storytelling and believable multi-dimensional acting from each performer, in a true ensemble creation.

Set & costume design by Bethany Wells is effective in its streamlined simplicity, with an interesting versatile and stylish semi transparent wall, allowing shadows to project through. Lighting design by Nick Flintoff & Pete Maxey is complex and enhances the atmosphere, with tight focus, dramatic effects and use of spot-light circles on stage to denote different locations, very effectively.

Set in a radio station the sound is important (!) and Benjamin Grant’s sound design deftly switches from several hand held mics, to voice-overs, a variety of sound effects, and music from the 40s and 50s and more, with the stage manager’s sound booth in view at the back of the stage area.

Rhum & Clay’s new production of The War of the Worlds has several surprise twists in its story and is more than very highly recommended – it’s outstanding theatre making, it is provocative theatre created and performed by an inspired and inspiring ensemble, see it if you can!