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The Theatreguide.London Review

The War Of The Worlds
Dominion Theatre   Winter-Spring 2016

This is in some ways a pointless review. The show has a guaranteed audience who won't read reviews and wouldn't be affected by them if they did, so nothing I or any other critics say can have any effect on its success. 

But, for the record, it's not very good. 

Musician-composer Jeff Wayne set H G Wells' classic tale of a Martian invasion to music in 1978, and the concept album featuring a full orchestral score, spoken narration and original songs was a big hit.

It was inevitable that it be translated to live performance and over the years has been the basis for everything from one-man shows to concerts. 

The current production was designed for a worldwide stadium tour of several years, and has now been downsized to fit into a theatre. 

And so what do you get? An onstage orchestra made up of the Black Smoke Band and the ULLAdubULLA Strings, conducted by Jeff Wayne himself. 

Computer-animated scenes from the novel projected on a large background screen while film of Liam Neeson as narrator appears on any one of a dozen smaller screens. 

An onstage cast of singer-actors for the songs and some dialogue, backed by dancers. And lots of bright lights shining in our eyes, strobes, fire effects and other visual razzle-dazzle. 

And very little of it is particularly impressive. 

Those who come in loving the music will be delighted to hear it again, while those who don't will have to acknowledge that there are some good melodies in the score. 

But what works on record can sometimes be too long for dramatic purposes, the singers forced to repeat lyrics to fill out the arrangement or just to wait for the orchestra to finish before the story can move on. 

Laim Neeson's somber and generally monotone narration just to be clear on this, he is not there in person or on hologram, just on film eventually becomes less interesting than trying to guess which screen he'll pop up on next. 

The choreography and general staging consists largely of a lot of people either running around in panic or writhing on the floor in agony. 

The film sequences are too grainy and elementary to be scary, and the one onstage 'Martian war machine' looks a bit like a giant jellyfish, and is actually kind of cute as it sidles its way across the stage like an audience member looking for his seat. 

And while there has clearly been a lot of money put into the flashing lights and pyrotechnics, the overall effect isn't much advanced over or more impressive than what you might have encountered in a Kansas City disco in 1970. 

The onstage cast includes David Essex, Michael Praed, Jimmy Nail and other rock and theatre veterans, succeeding more than you might expect in creating rounded characters out of their songs and brief scenes. 

They, and the occasional good song, are the only reasons anyone but a dedicated fan in search of a nostalgia trip would want to see this War Of The Worlds.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - War of the Worlds - Dominion Theatre 2016    

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