The War of the Worlds at the Dominion Theatre
Transcending the long-forgotten format of the prog rock concept LP to remain an enduring classic, Jeff Wayne’s 1978 album The War of the Worlds used a bombastic blend of rock and orchestral music to invoke HG Wells’s 1898 sci-fi masterpiece and create a legend all of its own. The opportunity to see the score performed by a live band and orchestra conducted by Wayne himself will rightly appeal to fans, but an inconsistent approach to the surrounding staging makes this audacious theatrical production a patchy affair.
Most of those packing out Bloomsbury’s Dominion theatre for the production will have fallen in love with Wayne’s original work as an experience that required nothing more than a turntable on which to play it, some study of the terrifyingly excellent album art and an imagination. The vision of Wells’ besieged London that the record created in the mind’s eye was deeply affecting because it was intimate and personal. With good reason, none of these conjured realisations were liable to have included Colin Baker-era Doctor Who-style monster props, a troupe of “Red Weed” interpretive dancers or Daniel Beddingfield. All three were present last night.
In fairness to Beddingfield, his role (The Artilleryman) was originally filled by fellow pop star, David Essex, and he does well with the high notes required for the character’s signature tune, Brave New World, if not quite as well with the script beyond it. Essex himself appears (The Voice of Humanity) and deservedly garners as much celebratory applause as Wayne in the curtain-call, but elsewhere inconsistent casting abounds.
Jimmy Nail (Parson Nathaniel) bellows his way through a section first brought to life by Phil Lynott’s legendary voice, with former Sugababe Heidi Range, 30 years his junior, on his arm as his wife, Beth. Range, along with Madelana Alberto and Michael Praed (in the lead roles of Carrie and The Journalist) adds some musical theatre vigour, though the latter is haunted by the spectre of Liam Neeson, cast in the same role and projected onto screens for pre-recorded sections of narration. When combined with the famous score, these sections (featuring direct transcripts of Wells’ prose) capture the doom-laden gravitas of the original, but the atmosphere is rarely given time to settle before it’s undone by an appearance of the creaky fibreglass “War Machine” or a spade-based dance routine.
The original album remains unchallenged as the essential means of accessing this classic.
Watch the trailer for War of the Worlds here: