As they called out that the house was now open for tonight’s performance of War of the Worlds, someone in the bar could be heard singing “the chances of anything coming from Mars…”, which goes to show the wide reach of this timeless story. But this isn’t another musical adaptation, nor a dramatisation. This is a homage to the legendary radio broadcast that reported sparked mass panic across America at the time.
If you don’t know that story, you’re missing quite the tale. HG Wells’ novel was turned into a radio show by Orson Welles and Howard Koch. The legend goes that it was so realistic some people honestly believed an alien invasion was happening and chaos ensued. Being 1938 we couldn’t all just pop on Twitter or 24-hour rolling news to double check!
Shipwreck Productions have taken the original script, made a few minor adjustments to set it back in good old Blighty, and then lovingly recreated it as faithfully as possible. It feels like an absolute labour of love, and one that sits nicely under the GrimFest banner it is currently playing as part of. It is, quite simply, a wonderfully creative and fun piece of theatre.
The biggest risk in presenting this as a radio broadcast is that it could all feel rather static. Much of the performance revolves around its four strong cast stepping up to microphones to read directly from their script in hand – presumably just another prop for authenticity. They get around this by ensuring we see the madness going on ‘behind the scenes’ to create the sound effects. Anyone who has ever seen a radio play put together will know what that can entail. Basically, it’s everything except the kitchen sink; brushes scrapped over dustbin lids, people treading in boxes of stones, upside down bicycles – anything and everything that can create a required sound. It’s a lot of fun watching the team work frantically inbetween their spoken roles. Pure enjoyment radiates from them as they scramble for the next prop. It’s easy to imagine that in those moments where the script calls for panic and shouting the cast are trying to outdo each other with the gusto of their screams!
In fact this unfortunately leads to the show’s biggest issue. With actors stepping in front of the desk to the retro 1930 style microphones, they obscure sightlines to what is happening behind. It’s a great shame when suddenly you can’t quite make out what they are using to make the slimy sound of an alien emerging. It’s easy resolved though, with a little rejigging of the layout.
It’s not just watching the sound being created that makes this such fun. It might have been an easier choice to forego the 1930s costumes, as it is radio after all, but detail is everything so we’re also treated to some wonderful costuming and amazingly realistic hair styles. It all adds further to the enjoyment.
The mythology around the original radio broadcast has grown over the years. The truth is that it did not cause such widespread panic. After all, the radio station only had a small audience. Maybe that is a good omen for Shipwreck, because their show’s first night was also played out to just a handful of people. We can hope that in years to come this play will have developed in the same way as that radio show. It was a production that many say was the making of Orson Welles: let’s hope it can do the same for Shipwreck. With luck it will be back bigger, stronger and maybe even louder, next year.
Based on an original script by: Orson Welles
Directed by: Charles Lomas
Produced by: Liam Alexandru for Shipwreck Productions