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War with the Newts at the Bunker Theatre | Review

War with the Newts - credit The Other Richard
War with the Newts – credit The Other Richard

After a good run in Edinburgh, followed by a stint in Manchester, Knaïve Theatre have taken up residence with their semi-immersive production War With The Newts. The play – written and directed by Tyrell Jones – is based on a science fiction book of the same name written by Karel Čapek published in 1936 – and is basically a story about what happens when human beings meet an alien race under the sea whilst out oyster fishing. Without giving too much away, the humans do their best to exploit the seemingly compliant new species (newts) and then, not too surprisingly, the newts turn on their masters and the world goes to Hell in a handcart.

Now, I’m not giving anything away here as the immersive elements of the production start before curtain up as the automatons welcome us onboard the disused oyster ship that is at the centre of the story. The welcoming aboard includes an element of sifting to produce a hierarchy of passengers, who are treated slightly differently once they enter the bowels of the ship – a very well produced set by Designer Hannah Sibai. The show itself is a story within a story with the cast of three – Everal A Walsh, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi, and Sam Redway – under the control of video produced talking heads, tell the story of humankind from first meeting the ‘Newts’ to the final moments that explain why we are all in a ship at the moment. Adding to the realism of the story and the history is the live surround sound installation by sonic artist Robert Bentall

All in all, War With The Newts, is a pretty good show. The problem for me was that I felt it wasn’t too sure what it wanted to be. There were elements of comedy, satire, social commentary, immersion and horror, in the story, all were very well acted by the cast of three. The issue was that maybe there were too many elements to make a cohesive whole. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the show but there were moments which – like the UJ boxer shorts – seemed to have been added for pure comedic effect rather than as part of the narrative. I also thought the ending fell a little flat, and, left the audience slightly unsure as to what was happening. I also, initially was a bit peeved not have seen a newt close up. However, on reflection, I think that was a good idea on the part of the company. It leaves the audience with an idea in their own mind as to how the newts looked and, more importantly, keeps the piece fresh. Remembering that the original book was written as the Nazi’s were rising to power, the newts could easily represent any of today’s negative forces trying to drown out the, for want of a better word, ‘Normal ‘ members of society.

So, a couple of negatives from me, but there were positives as well. For a start, the three strong cast played a total of 15 characters between them utilising a range of accents, costumes and demeanors. Each character was an individual in their own right and, on top of that, each cast member was playing an automaton performing as the various humans, a nice touch which, on the whole, worked very well. The trio worked well together and established a nice rapport with the audience so it was easy to believe in each character as they appeared – even the exceptionally irritating video teacher.

Overall then, War with the Newts had, for me, a few faults in the story but was produced and performed well by a talented cast who, whether human or robot, put on a fine show that hopefully isn’t a portent of the future.

3 Star Review

Review by Terry Eastham

It’s the not too distant future, post-Brexit. Global risk, technological revolution and new(t) capitalism are omnipresent. In the depths of the sea, an ocean of opportunity is arising. Fresh from its Edinburgh Fringe success, London audiences are invited to this lightly immersive re-imagining of Karel Čapek’s apocalyptic sci-fi satire which explores migration, perceptions of otherness and nationalism. Experience the sights, sounds and smells of the hull of a ship courtesy of a live surround sound installation by sonic artist Robert Bentall and imaginative set by Hannah Sibai.

Director Tyrrell Jones said: “War with the Newts uses surreal sci-fi narratives to imagine the most absurd and terrible conclusions of our current political climate. Karel Čapek wrote the original novel in 1936, just as Europe teetered on the verge of crisis. War with the Newts channeled his anxieties about vulnerable labour markets, perceptions of otherness and displacement anxieties fuelling right-wing populism. He explored how apathy and inertia create a space for the world to stand by and do nothing. We have reimagined this pertinent narrative for an adventurous audience – and where better to push boundaries of both form and content than underground in one of London’s most exciting, new venues for daring contemporary work?

Knaïve Theatre devise bold, controversial, and political theatre which directly engages with and challenges audiences. Exploring provocative issues that others might shy away from, Knaïve Theatre encourages debate and discussion that will linger on in minds long after performances are over.

Web and social media links: www.knaivetheatre.co.uk | @KnaiveTheatre | @s_redway | @Knaive_Tyrrell | #WarWithNewts
Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes approx (no interval)

Directed by Tyrrell Jones
Performed by Sam Redway, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi and Everal A Walsh
Music composed by Robert Bentall Set Designer Hannah Sibai

The Bunker
53A Southwark St, London SE1 1RU
Tuesday 9 – Saturday 27 October 2018
7.30pm (Tue – Sat) and 3pm (Sat only)


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