The Eve of the War contains some of most chilling chord sequences in the entirety of music. One of my earliest musical memories is discovering my dad’s copy of The War of the Worlds and listening to it one night, in absolute terror! So when the stage show‘s West End residency was announced I was excited about the opportunity to hear this visceral music performed live.
Whilst my expectations of the music were more than met, i think I can safely say this is not a production that is suited to the theatre. It has toured arenas, and I can see how that would be a much better home for the show.
The production relies heavily on projections, which are viewed on a background screen and several screens. They are amateurish in appearance (a teenager in their room could have made a better job of it) and very busy. It’s not always clear what the point of the projections are – one would initially think that their purpose would be to show the surroundings and things that can’t be brought to life, but this isn’t always the case… A confusing setup is only made more so by virtue of the front screens being slightly transparent and in separate sections. And appearing at random intervals. It’s unclear exactly where you should be looking. Adding the hologram screen into the mix only makes things more confusing. In my opinion it would work a lot better with simply the background projection and a still screen for the hologram. This would provide more focus and would be much less distracting.
The choreography is… Interesting. It’s very much interpretive, which works well at times but on the whole is a bit over the top. As the same strains of music repeat, so does the same choreography. Even if it was interesting choreography it would bore you having to see it quite so much. The bizarre red weed number in the second act would be far more convincing if more of the ensemble were involved – as it is, it’s more of a minor irritation than an infestation.
I do wonder if most of the budget for visuals was spent on the fire (from the ‘heat ray’) as you are treated to an awful lot of it. If this were the case, it would at least explain why the few big props & bits of set are, frankly, rubbish. The steps on wheels are pushed around a bit erratically by the ensemble and are used for several different locations without attempt at disguise. The Martian capsule is needless. It is shown on the background screen anyway, and the prop is barely on the stage. But the most embarrassing is saved for last: a solitary, rickety-looking tripod. It doesn’t look at all threatening, instead it’s just cringeworthy. I honestly don’t know how the actors can keep straight faces when it lumbers onto the stage…
I don’t understand why the band platforms are moved back & forth at various points in the show, however it is brilliantly & skilfully performed. It is a little repetitive at times (more than just to class it as re-emerging ‘themes’) and some pieces go on a little too long. The show would definitely benefit from slightly shorter arrangements and less padding, though it is entertaining catching a glimpse of Jeff Wayne’s excitable conducting!
The ensemble is energetic & enthusiastic; this makes up for a multitude of sins,but doesn’t save the production. The whole thing simply lacks direction.
Of all the named stars, Madalena Alberto makes the biggest impression; her voice easily & beautifully fills the Dominion whenever she’s onstage. I don’t see the point of David Essex’s character. It’s actually quite insulting to the other hardworking performers that he takes the final bow, to the biggest cheer, when he does very little in the show – his voice is ropey when he does have a little to sing, and his acting is non-existent.
The standout performance when I saw the show came from Artilleryman understudy, Simon Shorten. Not only does he have a real stage presence, but he really can sing… The role has some of the most demanding vocal parts of them all, but he makes it seem effortless. His performance highlights the ridiculous talents hidden away in understudies, as well as the value of casting trained musical theatre actors in productions like these. Watching Shorten and hearing some incredible musicianship just about makes the ticket price worth it.
My verdict? A show that manages to be overambitious & not ambitious enough in places – some good performances are not enough to save it from this year’s ‘Worst Show’ lists.
The War of the Worlds runs at the Dominion Theatre until 30 April 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.