Spending a couple of summer seasons viewing a stage from the flight-case-laden, cable-swarming dinge of its wings does rather break the magic of sitting and letting its illusions lead you – perhaps that’s why I never go to the Theatre.
But I’ve loved War of the Worlds since my early twenties – making D&D gaming notes while the Martians wailed ULLA from the cassette deck on the sideboard – and the chance to see it brought to life was just too much. Fuse that with my son’s love for the book, and the possibility of him seeing an actual giant tripod… and all that lost magic just ignites like a well-placed pyrotechnic.
And it was magic. Really. I know the Burton CD so well I can recite – and sing – it verbatim (though not in pubic) and it was almost odd to hear it in Liam Neeson’s voice, to hear Michael Praed’s marvellously British tones sing those chilling opening lines.
The chances of anything coming from Mars…
As it began, though, I confess the layering threw me. There was a backdrop showing film clips – shots of a ghoulishly deserted London and those hollow-eyed, tentactly monsters. Then there was a full orchestra, taking up most of the stage. Then actors, performing the ongoing parts of the narrative that we all know and love – Jimmy Nail as the Pastor just knocked it out of the park. Then you have dancers, describing the unfolding story in – well, occasionally quite wacky – interpretive movement. And then add your pyro and your auditorium lighting effects. So many different perspectives and different depths of field happening concurrently made the space almost too busy. There were times the layering really worked, tying different images together into one concept – the Red Weed particularly springs to mind – and there were times it didn’t quite get it right – the pseudo-steampunk YMCA routine with the shovels was a bit much.
Props department wins the big points for the giant War Machine – had my son bouncing on his seat (he had to build one of his own out of LEGO when he got up this morning) and the NASA finale brought its usual echoes of that modern fear.
But yes, slightly odd or not, I loved it. It was my youth writ large, an almost-abstract, somewhat-bonkers, multifaceted conjuration of something that’s been with me for twenty-five years, and I’m sorry to see the run end.
Because I can’t do its concept justice – and you really should have seen it.