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The Martians are coming! The War of the Worlds heads to the Norfolk stage

PUBLISHED: 16:30 16 March 2018 | UPDATED: 16:37 16 March 2018

Mars attacks in the Pantaloons production of War of the Worlds. Photo: Submitted

Mars attacks in the Pantaloons production of War of the Worlds. Photo: Submitted

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H.G. Wells’ science fiction classic The War of the Worlds has been adapted numerous times. As the Pantaloons bring a fun new stage version, a look at its enduring appeal. The chances of success? A million to one…

The Pantaloons production of War of the Worlds. Photo: Emily AppletonThe Pantaloons production of War of the Worlds. Photo: Emily Appleton

“No one would have believed in the last years of the 19th century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s…”

So begins H.G. Wells’ science fiction classic The War of the Worlds. And fewer would have believed in the first years of the 21st century that his genre-defining tale of Martian invasion would still hold such a grip on the public imagination.

It has been adapted time and again over the decades in many guises from Orson Welles infamous 1938 radio play that supposedly tricked America into believing they were genuinely under attack from Martians to Jeff Wayne’s 1978 rock-opera album.

The story is arguably better known in the public imagination for its adaptations than for Wells’s groundbreaking original, which first published in serial format in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897.

Running from the heat-ray in the Pantaloons production of War of the Worlds. Photo: SubmittedRunning from the heat-ray in the Pantaloons production of War of the Worlds. Photo: Submitted

Now a new stage incarnation is set to beam down into the region as the critically-acclaimed touring theatre company Pantaloons bring their funny yet faithful new adaptation.

The prolific touring theatre company are no strangers to the region having previously brought their uniquely anarchic adaptations of literary works such as Pride and Prejudice, The Canterbury Tales, Gulliver’s Travels and Bleak House.

This new production of The War of the Worlds continues their tradition of funny, frantic and fast-paced versions of English literature’s masterworks.

Adapter and co-artistic director of the company, Mark Hayward, explains they wanted the show to be moving as well as amusing.

The Pantaloons production of War of the Worlds. Photo: Emily AppletonThe Pantaloons production of War of the Worlds. Photo: Emily Appleton

“This new adaptation is very faithful to the text,” he says, “which essentially tells the story of one man’s struggle to survive against impossible odds, driven by the hope of being reunited with his wife.

“The trick to not undermining the heart of a book is to avoid sending up the text itself and instead focus on lampooning theatrical conventions.

“The joke should be about how hard it is to stage a full-blown alien invasion; then we can still tell a tale with pathos and all of H.G. Wells’ insight.”

But the show will feature plenty of humour too, with nods to other classic works of science fiction, ingenious cost-saving ‘special’ effects, and plenty to say about terrestrial life in modern Britain.

Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg's 2005 version of War of the Worlds. Photo: ParamountTom Cruise in Steven Spielberg's 2005 version of War of the Worlds. Photo: Paramount

“After all,” says Hayward, “this is a book in which the initial response from Londoners to the alien invasion is that really the authorities should have done more to keep the trains running on time!”

Anyone reading H.G. Wells original story now cannot help but be amused that invading Martians would choose to launch their invasion of Earth in the unlikely surroundings of Woking in Surrey.

The initial landing site of the alien invasion force, Horsell Common, was an open area close to Wells’s home and the idea for the story came from his brother as the pair enjoyed an afternoon stroll.

But while an odd choice to the modern reader it isn’t that strange in the context of the late 19th century when the British Empire was the predominant colonial and naval power on the globe. Where better for a terrifying starting point for an invasion by Martians with their own imperialist agenda?

Jeff Wayne musical album of War of the Worlds. Photo: Columbia/CBSJeff Wayne musical album of War of the Worlds. Photo: Columbia/CBS

Wells’s story however has long ago escaped its initial setting to capture the imagination across the globe. It has spawned seven films, as well as various radio dramas, comic-book adaptations, video games, a television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors.

And each generation has adapted The War of the Worlds to reflect its own concerns.

The most famous, or infamous, adaptation, the 1938 radio broadcast that was narrated and directed by Orson Welles and supposedly led to panic amongst listen who thought it was real, tapped into the approaching conflict in Europe in the late 1930s. George Pal’s 1953 film adaptation reflected the paranoia of the Cold War and Steven Spielberg’s 2005 take on the tale, starring Tom Cruise, was very much of the post-9/11 era.

Many though cannot think of War of the Worlds without breaking out into song from the 1978 a best selling musical album of the story produced by Jeff Wayne, with the voices of Richard Burton and David Essex.

Gene Barry and Ann Robinson in the 1953 film of War of the Worlds. Photo: ParamountGene Barry and Ann Robinson in the 1953 film of War of the Worlds. Photo: Paramount

Mammoth concert musical versions based on the original album are still being staged by Wayne and toured across the globe. The stage production utilises narration, lavish projected computer graphics, and a large Martian fighting machine on stage.

The Pantaloons version is a more humble affair that reflects the human scale story of the H.G. Wells original which follows naïve suburban Londoners as they investigate a strange cylinder from space only to be confronted by gigantic killing machines threatening the whole of humanity.

It will be performed live by just four actors, using musical instruments, puppetry and plenty of gusto to recreate the story of deadly heat-rays, giant fighting-machines, squidgy tentacled Martians and interplanetary warfare on an epic scale.

• The War of the Worlds will be performed at Diss Corn Hall on March 22, 7.30pm, £13.50 (£9.50 cons), 01379 652241, disscornhall.co.uk

• It will also be at Norwich Playhouse on March 30, 7.30pm, £12 (£9 cons), 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk


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