Tag Archives: Dawn King

We’re All Going On A Soma Holiday


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)

Doubling up


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 20th November, 2013

Dawn King’s play is a taut little thriller, and like the playwright’s name suggests, the plot dawns on us as the action unfolds.  We move back and forth in time, witnessing events out of sequence – like the spies on stage, we look for patterns and meaning in what we see and hear.

It is the story of two sisters.  One joins the secret service and winds up dead.  The other strives to uncover the truth about her sister’s death.  The spy sister has an affair with a married man, an artist, and this poses a security threat, and this brings about her downfall…

The cast of four double up on roles.  As well as being economical, this is a device that mirrors the double lives the characters lead.  Grianne Keenan is strong as the sisters, cold and dispassionate as one, driven and emotional as the other.  Shereen Martin portrays two more strong women – there is a theme here: women being strong and more than efficient in what is traditionally perceived as a man’s world, international espionage.  Ronny Jhutti is a terror suspect turned informer along with the philandering artist.  In contrast to the women, the men are more unstable, volatile even.  Finally, there is Bruce Alexander as Russian boss and the girls’ father, giving a very touching scene as a bereaved parent trying to make sense of his loss.

James Perkins’s set is all screens that slide across stage to effect the transitions.  They are for projecting handy translations of some of the dialogue for those of us whose Russian doesn’t go much further than ‘vodka’.  The set is all clean lines and angles.  It could be the artist’s exhibition, if the artist is ripping off Malevich’s white, black and red squares.  Gary Bowman’s lighting design adds a touch of colour and mood.  There is no moment when what’s on stage is not elegant and stylish.

Director Blanche McIntyre keeps things sharp.  The script treats the audience with intelligence (pun intended) and what we get is an absorbing and intriguing mystery.  We may feel detached from the characters somewhat – the set aids and abets us in this distancing – but the unravelling of the plot and the cold intensity of the performances are enough to keep us hooked.

The play shows us that you don’t have to be a spy to live a double life – anyone who has had an affair knows this.  But in a more general sense, it is a stark reminder that we can very rarely (if at all) know who someone else really is.  Everyone leads a double life.