A timely adaptation of Huxley’s Brave New World ironically offers food for thought that fails to nourish.
Huxley’s vision of the future is close enough to our current state to give us pause. Humans are genetically engineered to fulfil precise roles in the social hierarchy and, once hatched, undergo a process of social conditioning to ensure that every human organism is entirely happy with their lot. In fact, not being happy is definitively not allowed.
Outside of the particular job of work that each has been specifically designed to fit, they must enjoy lots of sex purely for recreational purposes, a continuous level of pointless consumption and distractions in the form of compulsory sport and mindless movies. To ensure participation and enjoyment, these are all experienced through the haze of the mandatory drug ‘soma’ – a necessary sedation that keeps everyone safe from the threat of unsatisfied desires that might destabilise this carefully managed society. Individuality and thinking for oneself is also not allowed and so art and books have long ago been banned to cement social conformity and a banal, unquestioning contentment.
Dawn King’s adaptation for Touring Consortium Theatre Company, directed by James Dacre, begins as a lecture. The audience is addressed as the latest set of ‘interns’, and introduced to a few of the top alphas and betas. The lower orders of deltas and epsilons are described but neither seen nor heard.
Unfortunately, the didactic style went on a little too long and the story only really kicked up a gear with the discovery of John The Savage, played with some conviction by William Postlethwaite. Brought up within a fenced-off reservation outside the regime of the new world order, this ‘savage’ is the only character with a concept of family, love and spirituality as well as an appreciation of art, literature and the full range of human emotions – all of which he has learned through reading Shakespeare. This savage speaks in Shakespearean phrases and ultimately asserts his right to be unhappy.
Huxley’s prescient points were all present and correct, but the need to portray this in a series of staccato scenes prevented a sense of flow and connection. The visual style – the set, staging and costumes – together with a strong cast, managed to portray a chilling message. However, within a disjointed story peopled with cold, often comic, characters, it was almost difficult to care.
Runs until Saturday 3rd October