The War of the Worlds

Last night I went to see this - Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds, based on the book by H.G.Wells.

The War of The Worlds

You can read all about the original 1978 concept album here.

The show was a faithful rendition of the album with all live performers, many of them from the original album, band and full string orchestra. Even Richard Burton made an appearance as a computer generated animation lip-synched to his original recording.

So, how was my second trip to The O2 (to see Madness last week - fun, but they’re clearly getting a bit old) in just over a week?

Unlike for Madness where we had tickets standing right by the stage, this time we were seated right at the very top of the arena. A vertiginous experience which took a bit of getting used to. The view made the arena seem a lot larger than I had realised. As did the wait for the underground back home again.

Our seating position also made it difficult to see the screen on which illustrative graphics and close-ups of the performers were shown. There were speakers and lighting equipment hanging down obstructing the view. What I could make out was all very well done. Perhaps not Hollywood quality computer graphics, but workable animations which helped to tell the story. The story is very well conveyed by the music, anyway.

At the relevant moment in the story a large Martian fighting machine comes down to occupy a spot in the middle of the stage with one foot planted in the orchestra and the other foot next to the band. Although I’m sure it was huge, from where we were it didn’t look quite so big. I think it could also have done with being a bit livelier. It had its red spot light heat ray which it scanned the audience with, but would have been cool if it could have moved around a bit. Or, at least jiggled about?

As with everything (except maybe Prince who charged a reasonable Prince-ly £31.21) that I’ve seen at the dome so far, I’d say the event was over-priced. That said, I’ve loved the original album since I first owned it years and years ago and it was great to hear it performed live and loud. So, it was definitely worth it.

There were tons of neat touches which helped make the show, too. Like the background martian noises in the build up to the show and during the interval; the period costumes worn by the performers; and the mist filling the musician’s areas during the second half’s Red Weed part. The background graphics and the lighting were nicely done.

There is some interesting information in the Story part of the official WotW website which answers a couple of questions I had:

How true is the musical version to the book?

Answer: Mostly - Parson Nathanial is heavily adapted from the curate in the book (who was deemed too passive) and his wife is completely made up. Otherwise, pretty much spot on, if you don’t count the new intro added for the stage version which features the martians discussing their plans to invade Earth.

Why does Forever Autumn seem a little out of place?
Answer: It was the only piece not written specially for the album. It was written six years previously and composer Jeff Wayne decided that it worked well in WotW. I think the song is a great fit musically but differs from other parts of the album in that it doesn’t thematically advance the story, or feature any narration or description. It is one of my favourite tracks from the album.

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