Amanda Wignall reviews: When the author Aldous Huxley first wrote Brave New World in 1931 it was a truly groundbreaking novel. He involuntary predicted many of the modern day scientific “achievements”. Having also the ability to foresee the destruction of society through its obsession for consumerism and voyeuristic needs. As well as throwing a disapproving glance at the core of socialist ideals.
As someone who first read the book thirty years ago there were a few reservations on just how well it would translate on stage. Thankfully Dawn King’s adaptation of this thought-provoking book is an incredibly sharp interpretation of the classic dystopian novel. A world where emotions are erased. If you have no hate then then you can’t have love. No anger but also no passion. Where babies are engineered and grown in a laboratory and families are obsolete. A distorted utopia become a dystopia that encourages overt sexual promiscuity and excessive use of the mandatory mind controlling drug Soma.
Reading is forbidden and so is creative expression. Being alone is frowned upon and group activities such as sport and sex is positively encouraged. Death is not feared but accepted. The set design (Naomi Dawson), lighting (Colin Grenfell) and video (Keith Skretch) prove to be a visual masterpiece between all three and the music by These New Puritans adds a pulsating and sensual depth throughout the production.
The show opens with a futuristic laboratory with scientists busy at their test tubes modifying embryos. Enter Thomas the Director (James Howard) addressing the audience as though we are new Alpha recruits. Explaining the differences between the five castes from the highest Alphas to the lowliest Epsilon and how their function in society is predetermined.
First through genetics then mental manipulation, conditioning and if needed (mostly by the lower castes) electric shock aversion therapy. We are introduced to the bright and breezy Lenina (perfectly portrayed by Olivia Morgan). A typical example of a Beta who is living her life just as she should and has being conditioned to. This involves indulging in sexual activity with various men and consuming Soma at any given time. “Every body belongs to everyone else everybody is happy” is the mantra running throughout the show.
Lenina’s current beau is the typically handsome Alpha air head Henry (David Burnett). Lenina is growing bored of Henry so sets her sights on the bumbling Bernard (a brilliantly cast Gruffudd Glyn) . Unfortunately for Bernard due to a malfunction in his conception he can’t quite reach his full Alpha potential.
He invites an enthusiastic Lenina to go on and visit to the savage reservation on a fact finding mission. Where people hunt, have families, love and read. The duo unwittingly stumble upon a brutal coming-of-age ritual and one of the locals John (a heartfelt performance by William Postlethwaite) explains what is happening to the shocked pair.
John is childlike in both speech and intrigue at the scientists who in turn are both disgusted and fascinated by life at the savage reservation. He introduces them to his mother Linda. “Mother” is a concept so abstract to them it induces revulsion in both. Linda is an exiled Beta who is now a raging alcoholic bemoaning her misfortune and bestowing praise on the elixir of Soma. She craves its warm embrace.
Bernard Decides to take John and Linda back to the city in order to raise his profile and win much needed admiration from his peers. At first John is fascinated by the Brave New World but struggles with its concepts. In particular the overtly sexual education and erotic play very young children are encouraged to participate in. Lenina has now set her sights on the rugged and dark John but is it love she’s craving? Or excitement?
When he’s quoting the beautiful words of Shakespeare to her she complains that he talks funny, tries to convince him to take Soma and seduce the unwilling man. She doesn’t grasp or understand the words of love and passion he is vocalising. How can she? She has no concept of deep emotions. All she knows is that she wants him physically because he’s new, different and very popular.
By now Bernard is flying high on his new fame after bringing John the Savage to high society. Unfortunately this all comes crashing down when John becomes violently enraged at the hospital where his mother Linda is dying. This society’s indifference to death is the final straw for the struggling “savage “.
Bernard suffers a spectacular fall from grace and is banished to a desolate island of his choice. Accompanying him is his friend and psychologist Helmholtz (Scott Karim ) who earlier in the show decided to stop taking Soma altogether so he could “feel” with surprising results. Leaving him full of apathy and dissatisfaction but rather unwilling take up Soma again.
At just over two and a half hours long, this spectacular sci-fi drama is time well spent. From the use of the audience in the first and last scene to the exquisite tableaux’s created during the taking of Soma you really do feel a part of the story. An intelligent production that will leave you wanting more and asking, “Does every body belong to everyone else and is everybody happy In this Brave New World?”
Reviewed at Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, 1st December. Runs until 5th December.