War with the Newts review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘always engaging and performed slickly’
Based on Karel Capek’s 1936 sci-fi novel of the same name, Knaive Theatre’s War with the Newts immerses you in an apocalyptic future where humans are no longer the planet’s dominant species.
In the basement of Summerhall, you’re welcomed on board a ship that will escort you to safety – safety from the super-newts that have taken over outside. Three virtual hosts introduce your evening’s entertainment – the story of how this all came to pass, recreated by three performers playing multiple roles.
It’s structured really neatly: the tale of how a British fisherman first discovered these super-newts, how a multinational corporation saved then enslaved them, then how they rose up against our governments, is crammed into the framing story of our fragile boat, sailing through newt-infested waters. And it’s also a potent – maybe a bit too potent at times – metaphor, for slavery, for mechanisation and for international politics.
The virtual hosts are a bit naff, and the whole piece a bit tonally unsure, sliding strangely towards comedy at times, veering towards melodrama at others like a budget B-movie. Tyrrell Jones’ production is always engaging, though, and is performed slickly by an impressively versatile cast. Good fun, if the newts don’t get you.