Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Standing in the queue directed down into the bowels of Summerhall, the excitement is palpable. War With Newts by Knaive Theatre is an adaptation of the 1935 sci-fi novel by Czech author Karel Čapek and promises to be an immersive experience. I see the people ahead being taken through a plastic curtain, obscured by dry ice, while the silkiest voiced man I’ve ever heard repeats the same instruction to every person. The tingle on the back of my neck told me I was in for a treat.
After being tested and classified with hand stamps, the audience is directed to the hull of their rescue ship and seated on plastic buckets. The conversation between audience members buzzes around speculating as to what our categories may mean and what will become of us.
The set is atmospheric and the buckets to sit on are suitably uncomfortable; but as the show continues it becomes clear that this is as immersive as the experience is going to get. Our robot guides inform us that we will watch the history of the hostile take over of humanity by our newt overloads. We are then shown ‘archive footage’ flashback scenes played out by the three actors, disappointingly it becomes clear we are the audience watching a play and no longer the escapees we were led to believe we might be. However once this is clear the drama plays out in an enjoyable and thoughtful 60 minutes.
The cast are tight and multirole with varying levels of detail, some of the many characters painting the dystopian picture more successfully than others. The young entrepreneur, played sensitively and emotionally, by Nadi Kemp-Sayfi makes a rousing and thought provoking speech advocating the enslavement of the newts in order to preserve human creativity. The downtrodden Prime Minister, played by a suitably foppish Sam Redway, is left hopeless and trouserless in a newt bath in an amusing attempt to meet the newts on a diplomatic level and the scientifically minded television doctor, played by Everal A Walsh who brings a refreshing intensity to each of his many characters, scorns the idea that these animals could feel love. The high concepts draw parallels to Brexit, to immigration and the future of humanity in a time of global warming and while all of these are touched upon no conclusions or solutions seem to be forthcoming.
The smell of oysters and creepily disturbing surround sound audio hinted to how much further the creative team could have taken their immersive environment and after over 60 minutes I left feeling a little lost and at sea but with plenty to be thinking about on the journey home, my unexplained category emblazoned on my hand possibly for days to come.