Gadget by The Blog Doctor.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Theatre Review: The War of the Worlds

Margaret and I saw the War of the Worlds stage show with Michelle, David, Jonathan and Amanda, at Rod Laver Arena, on the evening of Friday, 21st September.

I had expected that it would be a theatrical experience in the form of a musical play, so I was surprised to see seating over most of the floor of the auditorium, and a stage at the end of the hall. It was immediately clear that most of the stage would be taken up with the musicians - orchestra and rock band - with little room for the actors. Consequently I had to recast my expectations. As the show progressed it was revealed as something of a hybrid - part rock concert, part musical theatre, part cinema.

A show with the music of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds would always be interesting and the music played by The Black Smoke Band and backup orchestra was powerful and exciting. The problem for a show like this is to have the visuals live up to the quality of the audio. In the end even a huge screen will appear small from the back of a venue the size of the Rod Laver Arena. The visuals on the screen were interesting but not as spectacular as the music. The live singers were displayed on the screen with the prerecorded visuals. Although they didn't integrate well with the visuals it was an effective method of showing the singers in such a large auditorium.

The most interesting of the visual effects was projected on a screen on the side wall. One of the highlights of the original album was the narration by Richard Burton. If I had have thought of it I would have expected it to be a disembodied voice, but instead Burton's head appeared and started the narration. It seams that they used the same technique as that used to bring Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings movies. An actor - Brian Mallon - lip-sinked Burton's original audio recording. That was used in the generation of the Burton video. It was interesting to see a young, unlined Burton saying "No one would have believed in th last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space." This was a great achievement of computer animation. The producers claim that the image is holographic - ie 3D - but from our distance away it was impossible to see the 3D effect.

The special effects were not confined to the audio-visual sphere, though. Shortly after the Martian tripod fighting machines appeared in the story a 9 metre version descended to the stage from its hiding place amongst the lights and scaffolding above the stage. This was reasonably impressive.

The performers sang and acted well. I was particularly impressed with the range of Michael Falzon as the Artillery Man. Shannon Noll, as the crazy Parson Nathaniel, Rachel Beck, Justin Hayward, Chris Thompson and Anna-Marie Wayne also turned in fine performances.

Overall, once I had adjusted to they style of the performance, it was a pleasurable evening's entertainment.

One of the strong points of Wayne's original concept was to closely follow the original nineteenth century story. Most of the film versions have attempted to update the story with more realistic - modern - technology. These have generally been unsuccessful. Science fiction from an earlier era often has a jarring effect. We can accept their description of technologies that we have not yet developed - some of which are well into the future - but they often contain elements that show they are mired in an old and now outmoded paradigm. In the original book Wells described a powerful heat ray, which is clearly more powerful than any laser that has yet been invented, yet the tripods are very mechanical and the method of inter planetary travel is more like an artillery shell than a rocket. Wayne made the right choice in not attempting to update the story.

Wells's resolution to his story always seemed to me to be weak. It seems unlikely to me that a species that could span interplanetary space would overlook the effect of bacteria. Nasa was aware of this as an issue back in the 1960. Wells attempted to overcome that fundamental weakness in the Epilogue to the story when the Journalist considered the possibility of the Martians analysing their mistake and mounting a further invasion. Wayne includes this, but adds a sting with the "Houston Scene" at the end indicating that the Martians are back.

The video below is a promo for a DVD of the English production. It gives a good sense of the look and feel of the show.

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