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The War of the Worlds review at Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne – ‘thrilling and vivid’

The cast of The War of the Worlds at Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: Topher McGrllis The cast of The War of the Worlds at Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: Topher McGrllis

Northern Stage’s production of HG Wells’ science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds, eschews big budget thrills, in favour of a no frills aesthetic, which uses vivid narration and minimal effects to successfully ignite the audience’s imagination.

Laura Lindow’s new adaptation, which relocates the action from Surrey to north east England, introduces four refugees who have travelled through time to re-enact the alien invasion, with the purpose of warning the audience about the wasteful age we live in.

It isn’t clear how this this environmental message links to the narrative so the framing device feels a bit laboured. Ultimately though, this doesn’t matter as it facilitates a brilliant piece of ensemble storytelling, which sees the young four-strong cast thrillingly conjure up a cast of hundreds with little more than Lindow’s powerful and descriptive writing and a few rudimentary props.

Philip Ridley – ably performed by Jack Lloyd – is initially excited by the arrival of the Martians but soon descends into despair, madness and even unintentional cannibalism as civilisation crumbles.

The other three performers take on the characters he encounters along the way with gusto, from the entire population of a Northumberland village to a group of frogs he befriends in a basement.

With so many characters and such a lot of action crammed into little more than an hour,  this could so easily have been a frantic mess, yet Elayce Ismail’s cool-headed direction provides clarity, as well as moments of theatrical ingenuity.

Praise also needs to go to Mariam Rezaei, whose gloomy soundscape broods menacingly in the background, putting the audience in a state of near constant unease.

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HG Wells’ classic sci-fi novel brought vividly to life with imaginative storytelling