Saturday, October 20, 2012

Supa Productions: War of the Worlds


If you're a regular theatre-goer, then throw away everything you thought you knew about musicals and come to see this with a fresh eye and a willingness to immerse yourself in a multimedia experience which is more of a rock concert than a stage show.  And if you're not a regular theatre-goer, then this is the show that could make you one.

This is an ambitious project for Ron Dowd and his collaborators (not to mention Supa Productions) - not only because of the scope and novelty of the undertaking, but because the one line I heard in the foyer more often than any other was "I grew up with this record!"  I don't think I'm aware of a single other production in recent years which has carried a greater weight of expectations - especially since Supa has done a rare and valuable thing here, which is to bring to the theatre an audience that does not necessarily consider itself as interested in theatre.

Almost the whole of the stage is taken up by a massive orchestra of 20 string players and a rock band that seemed nearly as big (with no fewer than four keyboards). Above them is a long wide strip of screen showing CGI footage.  There's only a narrow strip of stage left at the front for the singers, which reflects the "concert" nature of the show, but given that in this version the singers are also actors, it's possibly not really enough room; at one point they noticeably had to dodge the conductor.  The narrator (the "old" Journalist) Joseph McGrail-Bateup, in a significant departure from his usual comic turns (the second for the year, after Titanic), sits at a desk to the side as he describes, with chilling gravity, the inexorable overthrow of Earth.

The graphics, though clearly a bit dated in style, are gripping, and the care that has been taken by James MacPherson to sequence them with the sound is evident; there's also an impressive lighting design by Chris Neal, including a searchlight that rakes the audience as the on-screen Martians do, and fire effects behind the stage.  Sharon Tree manages her orchestra very effectively, though there's not really much opportunity for dynamics; she did not appear to directing the rock band much, but it was fantastic, so whatever call she made there paid off handsomely.

The singers are all very good (though Steve Herzog, not usually a theatre perfomer, does struggle a little as the Voice of Humanity). Roy Hukari's attractive voice works well in a role (the "young" Journalist) that suits his naturally serious style. Sarah Golding and Simon Stone continue a year of strong performances as the mad parson and his desperate wife, but it is Max Gambale as the Artilleryman who is outstanding in an impassioned performance of power, conviction and amazing vocal range. The back-up singers were also good, though one of them smiled widely throughout, which was a bit distracting considering the characters on screen were having their blood sucked dry by Martians while the Earth succumbed to a plague of red weed.

This is a genuinely exciting, immersive and high-quality production that was well worth leaving my comfort zone to see.  And those friends of mine who went because they loved the album have come away truly thrilled, which is a much bigger recommendation than anything I can offer.

1 comment:

  1. A good summary of the show, and I agree with everything you say...pretty much. For me, the singers were disappointing and let the show down except for Max Gambale, who was excellent. But having said that, the musicians and production was absolutely fabulous.


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