In the early 20th century, the authority of the nascent ‘wireless’ was unchallenged and without equal. While the reputation of the BBC was unassailable, radio in general had an in-built trustworthiness – what was broadcast was taken as gospel. In the United States at least, this ‘trust’ was put to the test when Orson Welles’ loose adaptation of War Of The Worlds was broadcast – transposing the action from Woking and London in the UK to Grovers Mill, New Jersey. If the reports at the time are accurate, many listeners believed that the events of the radio play were actually taking place, generating hysteria and the fleeing of homes. Maybe this all really took place, maybe it didn’t. In some ways it doesn’t matter. After all, don’t let facts get in the way of a good story… Written by Isley Lynn and devised by Rhum & Clay, War Of The Worlds uses the original broadcast as jumping off point to ask certain questions – particularly in relation to the veracity of news and the ethics of journalism.
Following an amusing recreation of the original broadcast, the show ‘stretches its legs’– looking at events nearer to home. Meena (Mona Goodwin) is shown a letter by John (Matthew Wells) whose mother has recently died. The letter in question throws light on why his mother was estranged from her family in the United States. Why? The answer leads back to 30th October 1938 – the evening of the War Of The Worlds broadcast. Thinking that this personal story would make a great exclusive for her podcast, Meena travels to Grovers Mill to trace the relatives of John’s mother and get their side of the story.
While not alive during the 1930s, relatives Lawson (Amalia Vitale) and Ted (Matthew Wells) know from hearsay what transpired decades before. Of course what they were told puts a different spin on the story and Meena herself makes an ‘on the spot’ decision that challenges her journalistic integrity.
It is, however, a lengthy conversation with Jonathan (Julian Spooner) – Ted and Lawson’s son – who opens her eyes to the power of ‘digital journalism’ and sparks a chain of events with explosive consequences…
Like the most interesting journeys, the ‘story’ Meena’s initially investigating takes her down a different path, Finding herself as part of the story, Meena’s quest slips into the realm of ‘gonzo journalism’, where facts and personal experience are intertwined.
Interestingly, Meena’s lack of interest in the local politics and what makes the townspeople tick shows a single-mindedness that misses the most important details – and indirectly highlighting why a certain presidential candidate did well in areas of the US where voters felt overlooked…
The four-strong cast exhibit chemistry and synergy in their respective roles, bringing humour, versimilitude and a deft eye to the proceedings.
The way that the show subverts expectations and brings into focus the importance of telling people’s own stories – as opposed to ‘what sells’ – is as refreshing as it is timely.
© Michael Davis 2019
War Of The Worlds runs at New Diorama Theatre until 9th February.