Review of Brave New World, world premiere, at Royal and Derngate, Northampton, running until Saturday September 25, before touring nationally. Press night performance.
By Hilary Scott
IT is a compelling, and at times uncomfortable, adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World which challenges the audience at Northampton’s Royal theatre.
Those not familiar with the original 1931 text will not struggle to find familiarity in its themes, particularly pertinent to contemporary issues of the stupefying capitalism of western society juxtaposed with the violence, poverty and despair of the abandoned poor.
And hey, you get the story that spawned the Hunger Games trilogy, and even a Poldark-esque shirt-off scene from the floppy-haired William Postlethwaite as the passionate outsider, John the Savage.
The production whacks the viewer straight between the eyes – opening with a boom of music and lights and steading with the sterility of the laboratory conditions of the hatchery and conditioning centre.
For this is a world 500 years in the future where parentless babies are grown in test tubes and genetically modified to join their caste of clones to work in factories and sewers, or to be the educated Alphas and Betas of the elite.
But there are no wars or crime; this is a society controlled not by pain and fear, but of perceived happiness, conditioned from birth and powered by sex, consumerism and drugs. In this manufactured utopia, nature and art are treated with distain, while gyms and gadgets are the trophies of the elite. The citizens of this World State have everything they think they want, no family bonds, no emotional ties, an ecstasy-style drug called Soma, promiscuity and entertainment, and an indifference to death. “Everyone belongs to everyone else.”
Happiness is essential, and those misfits who aren’t happy and promiscuous are shipped off with their unwanted emotions to remote islands.
Meanwhile, out of sight and left to rot are the majority of the population, the Savages, who live ‘naturally’ while imprisoned in vast ‘reservations, occasionally gawped at like zoo animals by the holidaying Alphas.
These two cultures come into contact with the discovery of a young man accidentally born naturally in a reservation, and brought back to see the utopian world of his elite parents. John the Savage, educated in secret by reading the complete works of Shakespeare, sees the world through the constraints of ancient, Tudor rules, and is both enticed and repulsed by the hedonism of the World State.
On press night the theatre was packed, and any early-run technical issues had clearly been fixed, as the multimedia production was visually stunning. Huge video screens hung above and around the stage adding texture and depth while the original music by These New Puritans was perfect for the adaptation. The casting is excellent, particularly for the performances by Gruffudd Glyn as the bullied misfit Bernard Marx, Samantha Pearl’s naturalistic portrayal of conformist Polly, Olivia Morgan’s confident Lenina and Postlethwaite’s conflicted savage. All ones-to-watch.
Also in the talented cast of ten is Abigail McKern as Linda, the bedraggled former Beta elite and John’s reluctant mother, who gives both mature gravitas and light relief to the piece, while playwright Dawn King’s adaptation cleverly morphs the dictatorial World Controller Mustapha Mond into the female Margaret Mond, played with cold indifference by Sophie Ward.
There were issues – particularly with the pacing and delivery in the first half when the necessary set-up of the story meant the audience was starting to lull into a Soma-like stupor. It just needed to be faster, more dynamic and daring, to match the visual staging. There were a few fluffed lines in the second half, but nothing too distracting and I’m sure this is a production that will gain momentum and develop as the run continues.
It is a definite go see; an excellent story and a timely reflection, albeit written in the past about the distant future, on our own present. It’s no wonder Spielberg is planning a film version.
For tickets, visit royalandderngate.co.uk or call the box office on 01604 624811