“Trim, bold and emphatic”
This is a didactic staging of a hugely instructive book, so here are two questions from the lecture theatre: how near do you like your future and do you shop in ‘lower caste stores’? For me the answers are (i) pretty close and (ii) it depends.
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, which seems a long time ago, but he was seriously long-sighted and along with keen definition came the vision thing. OK, his Doors of Perception (1954) is a mescaline trip but he really did see what might be and his World State is bad and appalling, unless that is ‘You’re worth it’, in which case you might love to bits its mind-numbing, slogan-ridden lifestyle.
As for the second question, I bought some excellent coffee at ALDI last week and am very pleased with my jacket from Tu Clothing at Sainsburys, which by Huxley’s reckoning makes me a quantifiable Delta. Naturally part of the ‘fun’ of reading Brave New World is knowing that at least you’re not an Epsilon-Minus lift operator.
Huxley’s story, this play, is about misfits in the sorted, post-apocalyptic society. Bernard is a maladjusted Alpha-Plus psychologist who sees his way to a snappy suit by introducing John, an impure bred, unconditioned primitive, to his lords and masters. Or rather to Margaret, Margaret Mond, Regional World Controller. Lenina, a Beta-Plus lab technician with dodgy longings for a monogamous relationship, joins Bernard on the visit to the Savage Reservation to look at those unfortunates, who still suffer childbirth, disease and aging and who still experience family, love and heartbreak. There they find John and bring him and his mother home to London. It all gets messy when John claims his right to be unhappy.
Dawn King’s adaptation of Huxley’s text is trim, bold and emphatic. Its Display settings are, if you like, maxed out: Bernard is so inadequate that voice recognition software won’t recognise him; Lenina is sweetly confused; Mond has an answer for everything and John would take an axe to the whole ignoble shebang. He won’t take soma though – a legal high gone stratospheric – or sex gum, which is a relief.
There is a whole new order to configure here so it is unsurprising that video, lighting and sound provide illustration and support for the ten strong cast. There are multiple screens, helicopter rides and ‘feelie’ films and an immodest electronic score by ‘These New Puritans’ that all make the use of a centre stage curtain look decidedly old-fashioned, if not clumsy.
There is no hiding, either, of the pared down script and my unfortunate impression was of good actors managing one educative but end-stopped line after another. Flow was there none. On the other hand, and to be fair, I read Brave New World so many times when I was at school that I’m a fastidious, prose bound geek and anyway Huxley’s narrative is ‘set’ on information overload. Nevertheless, I did like William Postlethwaite’s tousle-haired John, with his subversive use of Shakespeare. Even the uber-cool Mond (a poised Sophie Ward) would have him, which is way beyond Huxley; but Scott Karim as the rebel writer Helmholtz really isn’t given enough to say.
So, fittingly enough, this is Brave New World encapsulated as feature drama. It is a little plastic, a little lurid, but still potent.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 29 September)
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