The War of the Worlds by Rhum and Clay

“The War of the Worlds” at the New Diorama Theatre

Rhum & Clay’s clever new show isn’t based on the titular novel by HG Wells. And it only takes the famous 1938 broadcast by Orson Welles as a starting point. Instead, the show is a stellar theatrical adventure about fact and fiction. A parallel is drawn between the radio play that caused chaos by presenting itself as live reportage, and fake news in the present, exploring both with wit and intelligence.

This is a devised piece, written by Isley Lynn, but stressed as a collaboration, and a high percentage of the ideas work well. There may be a superfluous incidental character or two, maybe even a scene? But the show coalesces well and keeps an audience guessing. As the focus moves from a microphone to a radio and then a recorder for a podcast, interest increases. Throughout, Benjamin Grant’s sound design, which plays such a key role, is commendable.

All four cast members, including Rhum & Clay originators Matthew Wells and Julian Spooner, play to their strengths and impress. Everyone puts in a good turn as Orson Welles, performers of his show and terrified members of the public. But it’s the play’s female characters that stand out: Amalia Vitale and Mona Goodwin do a superb job in their central roles as Lawson and Meena, who encounter one another just before Donald Trump’s election as the latter makes a podcast about a family history that started on the night of that panic- inducing broadcast.

It’s the reactions to Welles’ show that interest this talented team. Reports of hysteria are well known – but are they an urban myth? And what are their contemporary parallels? Enter Trump. With our modern-day journalist travelling to America, and the small town Welles that based his broadcast around, the show gets really smart. It would be easy to identify with Meena, but care is taken to show she is too fond of clichés – Goodwin is excellent here – and she stoops to cheating to get her copy. It’s a brilliant move adding credibility, as Rhum & Clay play with alienating their audience a little! That we end up suspicious of everyone here is healthy. But, trust me, it’s no fake news to say that you should see this show.

Until 9 February 2019

Photo by Richard Davenport