Jessica Harris visits the Midland Arts Centre for a cut-price classic.
Hot from Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and performed by Tom Fox of Lamphouse Theatre Company, this show is a riotous rewrite of H G Wells’ classic. Fox was more than comfortable in bringing his audience into the show. Quick to improvise, and confident in handling the many contributions that came his way from the auditorium, his control of all things on stage was impressive.
And there were a great many things on stage which Fox used to the full. Drawing on props, bits of costuming, masks and puppets, he not only played multiple characters, but also populated the piece with many more. Props and masks were suitably naff. A misshapen globe (vital to the plot since it enabled the place where the Martians landed, just south of London, to be pointed out) was made of papier mâché. The Martians’ space machine was put together from cardboard covered with silver foil.
Two puppets attached by a single rod made an appearance to represent two white males since, after all, they are the ones who govern the world. As Fox, positioned between them, manipulated the rod, all three of them jigged and danced to someone else’s tune. Perhaps best of all, in a parody of the character in Well’s book, a ragged bit of lace was used to represent the wife of the unnamed narrator.
Wells himself doesn’t come off well from this production. The narrator, voiced by Becky Owen-Fisher, who also stage-managed, commented ironically on the stereotype Wells presents of women as weak and subservient, as represented through the character of the wife in the original book. Fortunately, in this version, she was given agency as she rose to the role of prime minister and sought to negotiate with the aliens.
Attempting to look at other social issues, the show drew a parallel between the Martian invasion and its potential threat to humankind, and the impact of our behaviour and the risks we pose to the planet. But, in a production where the main focus was gags and buffoonery, limited development of this thread meant that it carried little weight, and the ending of the show, which was wide open to moving in this direction, was somewhat fragmented and confused.
But Fox’s performance more than compensated. A strong stage presence, with a good singing voice, he held the audience in the palm of his hands, and the show was a winner.
War of the Worlds (On a Budget) was devised by Lamphouse Theatre Company and performed by Tom Fox. Stage management and narration was by Becky Owen-Fisher. Co-directors were Richard Parnwell and Mercé Ribot, who was also Clown Consultant.
War of the Worlds (On a Budget) is on tour until 22nd October. For further information see lamphousetheatre.co.uk
Pic – Thomas Byron