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Review of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

As the house lights came up at the interval of my viewing of Brave New World, an older chap in the row behind me quite audibly said to his theatre companion "that was rubbbish". I could at that moment only assume that he was wearing one of those rather stylish visual goggles that the cast wore during the show to view something else entirely as "rubbish" was far from my thoughts.

It could of course be that he just didn't get it as science fiction might not be his thing. This is one of those impressive things with the constantly inventive Made In Northampton series, it boldly tries everything and maybe if you, like this chap come to all of them, they are not always going to work for you.

Adapted as a new commission by Dawn King from Aldous Huxley's 1931 novel, Brave New World is the neglected compatriot of George Orwell's 1984. It is however a much different affair in substance, relating to genetically created humanity and the socially controlling Soma drug. It is even now a hugely advanced story, which at the time must have been both staggeringly controversial and certainly for readers at that time, a piece offering simply impossible things.

Bringing such scale to the stage is a challenge as this world needs to be created in as little time as possible, but also clear enough to allow the audience to understand what is going on, especially of course for those unfamiliar with the world the novel inhabits. The concept taken of the audience being new recruits to the London Hatchery works. Thomas the Director (a slick and stylish performance by James Howard) bounds onto the stage from the stalls like some kind of game show host and takes us through the various levels of development of this new world of genetically created humanity. These humans are developed specially for their designated cast, so we have the dominant Alphas, whom those like the Director are in charge of everything, then we have the Betas who are still intelligent enough to be "middle management" but carefully created so as not to have any greater ambitions. The castes then decline downwards with all specifically engineered for their designated job, including sewer workers created without the sense of smell. Also prevalent in this world is the pleasure drug Soma and this is what makes the population both happy and more sexually permissive. The simple way that the characters pop the pill by a finger to the pill pot and to the lip is a strangely effective style.

The cast of ten are among the best I have seen at the Royal to date. My favourite without question is Gruffudd Glyn as the slightly not quite complete Alpha due to a supposed blood surrogate issue. In the first half he spends much of the time both picked upon and dishevelled in appearance, even being acknowledged and then deftly disregarded by the shuttle bay lift. He does take slightly the more back seat in the second half, but remains expertly played and a real character you can grow to love.

William Postlethwaite (son of the late great Pete Postlethwaite) also shows magnificent stage presence in his role as John the Savage, the true key character in the play. His confusion with this new world he finds himself in is superbly played by Postlethwaite and his scenes towards the end of the play have an unremitting power to them.

The more well known name of the cast Sophie Ward who plays the controller Margeret Mond (a male character in the novel) is a superbly devilish and frosty portrayal. It is perhaps a shame that her role is so small, however in those brief scenes, particularly towards the end of the play, she is quite brilliant. Also especially good is Abigail McKern as the wild "mother" Linda, both portrayed softly and then at turns desperate to return to the world of Soma. A final mention goes to Olivia Morgan as Lenina, the ever obedient Beta. At first an unsympathetic character who grows on the audience and becomes a truly integral role as the story develops.

Naomi Dawson's set is a visual feast on the eyes which is slowly revealed to the audience. This coupled with Keith Skretch's magnificent video design creates a truly immersive experience for the audience. These New Puritans tough original music completes the package with an audial feast.

James Dacre once again strikes gold and it is a constant pleasure to be able to see his work. They are always presented with such style and panache. This plays lasting idea after the show was without doubt the clever switching of conversations leaving the others frozen in time. There was as always some superb movement work, this time from Eddie Kay, mostly based around the sexual exploits of the characters. It was delicately, but effectively played.

So Dawn King provides a magical adaptation of a still powerful tale, which fails to get the full five star treatment because I would so have desired the tough end. I am picky like that it is true, but on this occasion I would have loved to leave the theatre in sorrow. Not with hope in my heart.

««««½


Performance reviewed: Monday 14th September, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

Brave New World runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 26th September, 2015 before touring until December.
Details of the tour can be found here: http://touringconsortium.co.uk/show/bravenewworld/

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


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