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The War of the Worlds review at New Diorama, London – ‘engagingly layered’

The cast of The War of the Worlds at New Diorama, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Physical theatre company Rhum and Clay’s new show is inspired by Orson Welles’ notorious 1938 radio broadcast. Welles’ famously retold HG Wells’ novel as a series of news bulletins, which led many people to believe that an alien invasion was imminent.

Working closely with the company, playwright Isley Lynn uses this as basis for a present-day tale of a young British podcaster (Mona Goodwin), who visits Grover’s Mill, the New Jersey site of Welles’ fictional invasion, in order to unearth a story about a woman whose family abandoned her during the broadcast.

In this way Lynn digs into the disinformation industry and the way in which click-driven ‘news’ content is created, the way conspiracy theories spread and mutate, and the effect they can have on people’s worldview and their politics; she also reworks Welles’ broadcast for the iPhone age, with people staring at their devices for updates as news of the invasion spreads.

It’s a smart, engagingly layered show that intelligently explores the faith people place in the media and the relationship between facts and the human need to tell stories.

Though the different narrative elements don’t completely coalesce, Julian Spooner and Hamish McDougall’s devised pieces features some superb ensemble work and is performed with precision by the company of four, smoothly shifting from a 1930s recording studio to a modern-day alien-themed diner. Amalia Vitale proves particularly versatile, multi-roling seamlessly and, fittingly, Benjamin Grant’s evocative sound design connects everything, conjuring worlds.

New Diorama artistic director David Byrne: ‘If we don’t take risks, there’s no point in us existing’

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Verdict
An engagingly layered devised show about truth, news and the media, inspired by Orson Welles' famous radio broadcast
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