We’re All Going On A Soma Holiday

BRAVE NEW WORLD

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 5th November, 2015

 

Aldous Huxley’s visionary 1930s novel is doing the rounds in this new adaptation by Dawn King, and it’s refreshing to see serious science fiction being tackled live on stage. It turns out Huxley’s ideas have lost none of their sting or pertinence. In fact the brave new world he depicts seems frighteningly close, given the technological advances and ideological backwards moves that have happened since his day.

We begin in the London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, where its Director (James Howard) addresses us as newly arrived trainees. It’s a nifty means of exposition, detailing how this society operates and Howard is smarmily splendid in his PR spiel. The alphas and betas in society get the cream, while further down the social scale, the epsilons would be lucky even to glimpse the carton.   This caste system is achieved mainly by genetic engineering (natural reproduction has been eliminated) in vitro and then social conditioning brainwashes the resulting children into a narrow way of life that promises them Order, Stability, and Happiness – this latter comes in the form of a freely available drug called Soma. Take four and you can have a holiday, just zonk out for a specified period, truly getting away from it all.

Bernard, though, is a bit of a misfit. Not quite alpha enough, he isn’t accepted and is excluded from the general promiscuity all around him. Until he takes popular Lenina (Olivia Morgan) to visit the Savage Reservation where people live like beasts, drinking, reproducing, and practising religion. Imagine! They bring back John, who turns out to have links back home. John finds it hard to accept his new way of life and becomes something of a celebrity, a novelty act, stirring ‘inappropriate’ feelings within the impressionable Lenina.

As Bernard, Gruffudd Glyn is a sympathetic figure in this alien way of life. Olivia Morgan convinces as the thoroughly conditioned Lenina (and I’m not talking about her hair), while William Postlethwaite’s savage John is a commanding presence – he gets all the best lines, quoting Shakespeare at every opportunity. Ironic that a literary figure we regard as a pinnacle of human endeavour is banned and derided for his ‘tricky emotional content’. In charge of it all is an icy Sophie Ward as Margaret Mond, chilling in her detachment but not entirely inhuman, contrasting with derelict Linda (Abigail McKern making an excellent drunkard and invalid).

Director James Dacre keeps the action clear, using cross-cutting and freeze-frames to zap us from scene to scene and back again. Naomi Dawson’s design is deceptively simple, making effective use of TV screens and projections to give us glimpses of the world beyond the windows, aided by the precision of Colin Grenfell’s lighting and George Dennis’s sound. There is evocative, original music by These New Puritans.

It’s an absorbing, thought-provoking and scary piece. The society on stage is divided by genetic interference. Here we see social engineering at work, pricing the poor out of London, while certain politicians promote division based on cultural and racial differences. In Huxley’s day it was the rise of Nazi Germany. We are more in peril of surrendering our freedoms to corporate overlords. Suddenly the advent of the Coca-Cola lorry does not seem so cosy. All right, it’s not exactly delivering Soma but the way people profess love for this symbol of rampant capitalism should be a warning sign…

All the feels: Olivia Morgan and William Postlethwaite (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

All the feels: Olivia Morgan and William Postlethwaite (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

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About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic http://williamstaffordnovelist.wordpress.com/ http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B008AD0YGO View all posts by williamstafford

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