A novel of ideas expressed as an echo of reality, Aldous Huxley’s previous predictions of the future are thrust into the face of modern society as the stage performance of Brave New World rings uncomfortably true. What was once a narrative of academic satire is transformed into a distressing work of reflection.
The premise of Brave New World is the abolishment of misery and constant continuation of happiness. A world in which humans are produced in tubes, genetically engineered to predetermine their future. A world which is hierarchical, containing Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons; to be Alpha is to maintain the highest position, to be Epsilon is to maintain the lowest. A world in which human conditioning has resulted in the celebration of hierarchy, consequently creating stability as pain is eradicated with a little help (major reliance) from the famous Soma drug. And to top it all off “everyone belongs to everyone else” or in other words, everyone has sex with everyone else. Happiness comes at a high price as freedom is distorted, and control dominates.
“What Dawn King’s adaptation, directed by James Dacre, does is draw attention to both the familiar and the unfamiliar”
To say Huxley’s predictions were absolutely accurate would be incorrect; of course, all humans are not hatched in tubes and relationships of love are embedded in our society. However, what Dawn King’s adaptation, directed by James Dacre, does is draw attention to both the familiar and the unfamiliar, entwining the features to alarm us into confrontation. From the use of direct address, the audience become members of their society; we become new recruits as Thomas the Director (James Howard) welcomes us on his tour of education. This, which at first tickles us as we are informed of the disgust and absurdity surrounding the notion of mother, becomes less humorous and more disconcerting as Dacre projects a society consumed by technology which controls decision making.
Keith Sketches’ videos are displayed on screens either side of the stage, revealing advertisements to encourage the consumption of Soma. Images are also shown of John the Savage (William Postlethwaite) a young man raised on the Savage Reservation – a community not controlled by the World State – with the caption ‘hot’ played on repeat before our eyes, exposing the encouragement of celebrity worship. This is only heightened by the flashing lights, representative of press photographers who chase John and Lenina (Olivia Morgan) during their date, demonstrating the more than familiar desire to need to know about every detail of a person’s life (no one can deny the odd Facebook stalk). Reality TV is anticipated through Huxley’s invention of the ‘feelies’, an all senses interactive show. Although, the opportunity to invite the audience into this experience was seemingly missed by Dacre, an aroma or physical sensation would have augmented our emersion into this world.
“King and Dacre were fairly faithful to Huxley in structure and plot”
Huxley’s society is advanced and clinical, reflected in the fast pace as multiple scenes co-exist on stage. This fast pace does entail a flaw: the sparseness of the set. I desired a complexity in the scenery of the World State, contrasted with a repellent and naturalistic vision of the Reservation. My desires were not satisfied as what was offered was a minimalist set, altered merely by chairs, desks and tables. The central role of the Reservation scene was simply the picking up of John. Huxley’s means of serving a stark divergence between the ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilsed’ did not achieve its full potential due to the brevity of the scene. To the rescue came The Three Puritans. The music they produced embodied the atmosphere of each location, each mood; to be in the Reservation was to be surrounded by tribal drums, to be in a land of Soma was to be encased in psychedelic harmony; it was a juxtaposition of sounds.
King and Dacre were fairly faithful to Huxley in structure and plot, yet the intellectual ideas produced by Huxley were somewhat overshadowed by an empathy for characters, or, more specifically, for Lenina. Olivia Morgan’s performance enabled us to witness and feel the consequences of this tragic society. King and Dacre’s deviation from the original text in revisiting Lenina at the end presents us with a girl broken by society. Bernard Marx, a deficit Alpha, is the focal character, and although Gruffudd Glyn, who plays Bernard, brings laughter into the theatre, it is Morgan who is the star.
Laughter, interaction, investment all exist, but so does a warning against ourselves.
Brave New World runs at Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Saturday 17th October.