I defy any person to not feel a course of excitement run through their veins as those iconic strings bash out the legendary chords that mark the start of Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds. Any child of the seventies or eighties will almost certainly be familiar with the weird and wonderful sounds that used to only come sparking out of our old vinyl record players. Now though we get to hear it all played live which only goes to heighten the drama.
Following several years of arena tours with a semi staged concert version of the hit music album it is the ever canny Bill Kenwright that has reigned in the Martians and put this into a more condensed theatre sized production. It is still part concert and part musical and of course the gargantuan space that is the Dominion is merely a midway point from arena to theatre really, but nonetheless it works.
It works for one simple reason. The semi staged nature of the show means that it is the music that is the star of the show, and it is that that holds centre stage at all points with original composer Jeff Wayne conducting and holding court throughout. Wayne jerks, sways and thumps his way through the show in an almost slumped standing position centre stage on a podium that moves this way and that to ensure constant prominence. Wayne and his creation are one and it is clear in his odd collection of movements that his baby permeates his every sinew and courses through his blood.
Released in 1978 the album has been one of the biggest worldwide hits ever created and makes you pine for the carefree days of creativity that could lead to such a creation. It even makes me pine for the days of vinyl and that epic album sleeve of illustrations and story telling that is long since lost.
Kenwright stalwart and long term collaborator Bob Tomson has put together a plausibly engaging show with all reverence being given to the spectacular musicianship of a stellar orchestra and its conductor. Bells and whistles there are aplenty with Tim Oliver’s dazzling lighting design and Ric Lipson’s nifty set design. Flames shoot out of the foot of the stage and the giant three legged Martian tripod plods its way across the stage. It may not always be slick and pretty but it is never anything less than impressive.
Liam Neeson sits in for original journalist Richard Burton via projection screens that dip in and out with a bit too much regularly but the cast of real people on stage hold it together with greater ease. Michael Praed plays the ‘living’ journalist with a solid level of sincerity and in fine voice too. Original cast member David Essex runs about energetically enough with an relaxed feel to his stage time whilst Jimmy Nail as troubled Parson Nathaniel desperately looks for belonging in his role but never quite finds it.
Some of the acting is over egged to be sure but it really doesn’t matter. This is a great spectacle and is more importantly an opportunity to hear the phenomenal sound of the this classic score and is a real treat.