It is important to state that ‘The War of the Worlds’ by Rhum and Clay is not a re-telling of HG Wells’ classic story of terror and invasion, but is instead a pensive meditation on the ethics of journalism in the modern world of fake news and clickbait. Is it the fault of the journalist if the consumer does not double-check the information given to them? Can artists ever take responsibility for the, potentially extreme, reactions that audiences may have? The show is smartly designed and well performed, however does not get truly gripping until an hour into the 80 minute run time.
The play follows Mina, a podcaster in the 21st century, whose pursuit of the truth is paralleled with the modern myth of Orson Welles’ adaptation of ‘The war of the Worlds’ for American radio. Welles’ adaptation was supposedly received by mass hysteria as the public believed the broadcast to be real. The show then deconstructs the initial smug laughs that such a story provokes: those silly Americans, gullible and sensationalist, not knowing the difference between fact and fiction! But, it suggests, if you were living in a time of uncertainty and rapid change, would you not also believe farfetched lies? Who are we to laugh at American ignorance when we Brits similarly swallow the prejudiced preaches of politicians and take the words of celebrities as gospel?
Certain scenes, such as a sinister discussion Mina has with clickbait-mongering Jonathan, are brilliantly written, with tense dialogue, however the pacing of the story is a bit off. The focus on the ways in which the media manipulate us, and how easily roped into that pattern for profit we can become, comes almost too late, as if Mina’s character development was forgotten about. Nevertheless, the cast are extremely watchable, and are able to shift into various different personas with ease and confidence, demonstrating the immense amount of talent between them. Additionally, the scenes in which the audience are perfectly aware that they are being misled still manage to be engrossing and believable, and the claustrophobic white set really allows the cast to play around with space and suspense.
Overall, this is undoubtedly a play with a direct political message, that is interested in the invasion of our current culture, not by aliens, but by paranoia, naivety, and poisonous ideologies. It is thought-provoking, and stylish, but unfortunately lacks a certain sardonic punch that could have truly challenged its audience.
The War of the Words runs until the 26th of August – buy tickets here.