Mariam Jat

Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds went to number 5 in the UK album chart when it was released in 1978, and was so popular that it has had tours in this country and Australia, as well as the 40th anniversary tour and an audiobook in 2018. The concept album combines progressive rock, string orchestra, narration and song to retell H. G. Well’s classic novel in concert form. I have grown up with the LP of Wayne’s War of the Worlds – my father and I have been known to sing Martian at one another – which I mention because my familiarity with both the album and the novel probably affected my perspective; I was comparing the band to a studio version which is clean and balanced, and I was looking for the stage action to work with Wayne’s composition. On this point, I was disappointed. There were several times when the cast was brought on stage only to look out at the audience or fight amongst themselves, which I felt was unnecessary. The ensemble had a more effective purpose in ‘Thunderchild’ and ‘Brave New World,’ but still could have done with more conviction and fluidity, as there was too much awareness of the choreographed moments. Set (by Roisin Kennan) was good: the band are visible throughout as the backdrop of the performance, and Archie Williams’ old Journalist (the narrator figure) sits front left in a study. I would personally have lost the bookcase here, and moved Williams’ desk further over so as to encroach less upon the action, but otherwise the idea worked well. Costumes (by Valentin Foley) were a strong point of the production.

"This production had a lot of potential to be great, but it was let down by a general feeling of under-preparation"

We have come to expect a quality from ADC productions which may be unfair for student theatre, but nonetheless the bar is set pretty high, and sadly this production felt amateur in comparison to other things I have seen in Cambridge. Unfortunately it must be said that the light and sound operation was substandard. I believe the crew were seeking an operator last minute, so it may be harsh to lay blame on whoever stepped in to help, but I also believe that a producer should have contingency plans for things like this: there at least needed to be a more clearly cued script. Almost every lighting change or effect was mistimed (which was a shame, because some were well designed by Dmitri Bashtanov), and sound balance was poorly controlled, with overpowering effects and slow microphone cues. Some performers were noticeably irritated by the persistent problems. Williams was a good narrator when we were able to hear him, but he delivered a lot of lines either in darkness or drowned out by the band.


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Indeed, the music was overpowering throughout. It was good, but the performance would have benefited from pulling back enough to let the solo instruments and singers be heard more clearly. Some vocals were strained and others tentative, though on the whole the cast handled the songs well. Alex Hancock did well in the lead role of young Journalist, and Christopher Hose was most consistent as the parson. There were moments when something felt missing; Wayne’s composition makes the most of synthesiser and guitar motifs, which were sometimes difficult to pick out among (rightfully) persistent strings and rhythm. Finlay Stafford’s drums were great, but they were so loud that the rest of the band were fighting to be heard, and the vocalists had to push to get above them; Williams, speaking, stood little to no chance. That said, the musicians managed to pull off most of Wayne’s complex album, even if it wasn’t quite as clean as the original; ‘The Red Weed’ was a musical highlight, though a visual representation would have helped here, as the stage was blank.

The War of The Worlds suffered from feeling more like a dress and tech run than an opening night. There were too many mistakes in what would otherwise have been a fun production, which meant that as an audience we were never able to immerse ourselves. The team need to go away and iron some things out: the obvious technical issues, but also the smoke machine’s intermittent hum in the silences, anachronistic red socks, unconcealed lights on microphone packs, and white shirts untucked visibly under black jackets. Correcting the small details like this is part of the overall effect which takes a production up a level, and unfortunately it was not done. It was frustrating, because I felt this production had a lot of potential to be great, but it was let down by a general feeling of under-preparation, and directing decisions which lacked impetus. If the team can get over the technical issues and find their balance, this will be be a good show.

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