Review – The War of the Worlds – Liverpool Everyman

THE jury is still out on which was the bigger piece of deception – Orson Welles’ 1938 Mercury Theatre radio adaptation of H G Wells’ War of the Worlds or the countrywide panic that allegedly ensued as a result of it. Either way, you might argue that it was the birth of fake news in the mass media.

Originally created in 2019 and now enjoying a short UK and international tour, Rhum and Clay’s stage play is not an adaptation of the Wells story at all but an imagined tale about a modern-day British podcaster. She visits Grover’s Mill in New Jersey to try and establish the truth of a story about a young girl who was abandoned by her family in the height of the panic caused by the radio broadcast. Her publisher back home is keen that she shouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. This is overlaid with a second narrative about teenagers creating panic-inducing falsehoods via online media.

It’s an unusual mix of physical theatre and very text-driven storytelling that somehow manages to feel heavy-footed whilst still moving at breakneck pace. The set design is neat, with a fine mesh screen diorama in which there are a number of doors and a raised window into a production gallery. This permits a clever lighting script to play from both the front and rear of the stage, which along with a strong soundscape gives the production a great atmosphere.

Four actors all set about periodically mimicking Orson Welles’ delivery of the 1938 broadcast, whilst all of them keep reappearing as the various other characters in the multiple storylines. The transatlantic setting enables some wry observations about Trump and Brexit. It’s a clever conceit that is clearly intended to open conversations about the relationships between people, politics, truth, technology and the media.

All in all this is a war of some very different worlds than either HG Wells or Orson Welles had in mind. It is clever but occasionally seems almost at war with itself. Whilst it is in many ways a master-class in stage craft, it occasionally runs the risk of being a triumph of style over substance.

The War of the Worlds is at the Everyman until Saturday before jetting off to California.

Star rating – 3 stars

Review by Nigel Smith