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HG Wells’ classic sci-fi novel has been mined for a number of films, TV shows, musicals and spectacular stage shows over the years, but a 1938 American radio play has unquestionably been its most notorious incarnation.
Produced by, and starring Orson Welles, the cleverly crafted audio drama was performed live but with regular interruptions by ‘breaking news’ bulletins about an unusual object falling from the sky in New Jersey. The cunning combination convinced many listeners that Martians really had landed, sparking outrage in the media and calls for greater regulation of the airwaves.
And if something in there rings a bell in a world in thrall to social media, then you won’t be surprised to learn that Welles’ version - and the way fake news was broadcast and received in it - is the jumping off point for Rhum and Clay Theatre Company’s reimagined version of the play, which draws parallels between the dominance of radio then and internet now, as well as recognising our susceptibility to deception regardless of which wireless (ahem) we choose to obtain our news.
The sprightly production - anchored by dynamic performances from the four leads - is set in a bare radio studio and initially recreates the original broadcast before delving deeper into its impact via an investigation into the case of a child apparently abandoned by terrified parents fleeing the town of Grover’s Mill, scene of the supposed Martian landing, and now a popular tourist destination as a result (of something that never happened).
Media student Meena wants to make a podcast (here we go again…) about the whole affair, and her interactions with estranged family members unearth yet more blurring of fact and fiction, truth and lies, on micro as well as macro levels. There are nods to Trump and Brexit along the way (the play is set in 2016, so too soon for anti-vaxxers), and while there’s an implicit acknowledgment that the motivation behind the falsehoods and hoaxes isn’t always simple or even sinister - the explicit message, to quote another sci-fi classic, is the truth is out there.
Reviewed by Steve Adams
Posted on Wed 27 Oct
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