Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review: 'War With The Newts' at The Bunker, 16th October 2018

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

The foundations of Great Britain are sunk deep in blood. Stand outside Buckingham Palace look at the Caribbean and African countries celebrated as British property: countries plundered for their resources and their populations enslaved. It's this stolen wealth that bought the 'Great' in Great Britain, the sweat and tears of our slaves that bind the Portland stone of our great buildings and the perpetrators of these atrocities that we honour with great statues.

So what does all that have to do with newts?

Well, Knaïve Theatre’s War With the News is adapted from Czech writer Karel Ĉapek's classic 1936 science fiction book of the same name. The broad strokes of the story concern mankind discovering a subaquatic race of (what they perceive as) semi-intelligent creatures. Realising their capacity to learn, mankind enslaves the species and reaps the economic benefits of free labour. But soon the newts learn enough to understand their predicament and turn on their former human masters.

Writer/director Tyrrell Jones' adaptation opens in a world of newt supremacy. In a nice (but ultimately inconsequential) bit of audience participation, the audience are survivors making their way to one of the final human colonies left on earth. On the trip, we're kept entertained by distant masked observers communicating through television screens (who themselves may well be newts) who give us a history lesson on the last couple of decades.

These historical vignettes (performed by Everal A. Walsh, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi and Sam Redway) range from an oyster trawler dredging the sea and discovering the newts for the first time, a speech championing their commercialisation, fraught negotiations between humans and the newly powerful newts and British refugees fleeing to Kazakhstan.

The common thread throughout these scenes are the humans repeatedly underestimating the newt's capabilities, being blinded by their own greed and suppressing their consciences. The finest example of this is a disturbing vivisection scene, in which a newt's internal organs are removed by a friendly scientist who ensures us the creature cannot comprehend what is happening to it, as a heart rate monitor beeps insistently in the background. 

For me, the highlight of the play was a late scene in negotiations where a desperate British ambassador pleads with a representative of the newts to save Britain. In recognition of the country's crimes against their species, the newts demand that the country be razed and transformed into a shallow breeding pond. As the British ambassador pleads and grovels ("Take Scotland! All of it!") you can't help but think of the ongoing disastrous Brexit negotiations.

And while it's a bit depressing to think of this country reduced to subaquatic rubble (in the play) or an economic basket case (reality), let's face it, we totally deserve everything that's coming to us. The fictional enslavement of the newts stands as a neat allegory for the many crimes Britain has committed to get us where we are today and - just as in the play - we are about to be righteously taken down a peg or two. It's time to pay the piper.

So yeah, I enjoyed it. Set designer Hannah Sibai's industrial orange packing crate scenery works beautifully, Luca Rudlin and Richard Williams video inserts are well produced, Tyrrell Jones' script nimbly encompasses comedy, horror and political sentiment, the cast doesn't put a foot wrong and it's a breezy, fast-paced 75 minutes in length.

My kinda theatre.

War With The Newts is at The Bunker until 27 October. Tickets here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'War With The Newts' at The Bunker, 16th October 2018”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights