Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Chances Of Anything Coming From Mars [Review: Jeff Wayne's The War Of The Worlds]

Following my close encounters with Skyline and Monsters, I completed an alien invasion hat-trick with a return to the source: Jeff Wayne's musical adaptation of The War Of The Worlds. It was bitterly cold at London's O2 arena on Sunday so I was glad of frequent blasts of hot air from the Heat Ray.

You probably already know that Jeff Wayne composed The War Of The Worlds in 1978, basing it on H.G.Wells' novel, and that it was released as a concept album narrated by Richard Burton and sung by Justin Hayward and other artists. You may also have seen the iconic album cover and other illustrations from an accompanying booklet, with their easily recognizable depictions of the Martian Fighting Machines. And you may well be aware that a stage version of this composition is currently touring arenas and stadiums around the world. The leitmotifs and musical movements of this rock opera are also very familiar.

This production is conducted, with typical high energy gesticulation, by Mr. Wayne himself, and thanks to the magic of CGI is narrated by the detached, floating head of Richard Burton. Also returning from the original recording is Justin Hayward, accompanied by six more stage players including Liz McClarnon in a brief but heartbreaking appearance as the doomed parson's wife, and Jason Donovan as a superbly demented Artilleryman. The stage is dominated by a giant tripod Fighting Machine and the performance is accompanied by film incorporating new animation, as well as the previous illustrations. This remains primarily a concert performance and all the arena show trappings add to the experience - and are a lot of fun - without overshadowing the music at all.

Of all the adaptations of The War Of The Worlds - including at least three films and a radio mockumentary that sent Americans running for the coast in fear - Jeff Wayne's is both the most inventive, and the most faithful to the novel. The narration is taken wholesale from the text, the story remains set at the turn of the century, the creatures - bigger than a bear, made entirely of brain, building machines that take the place of bodies - are unchanged, and Wayne's powerful music takes its cues from H.G.Wells' soundscape including of course the triumphant cry of the Martians.

[pictures are courtesy of The War Of The Worlds production team]

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