Brave New World creates an experience that overwhelms the senses from the moment the play begins. Though many may already be familiar with the world from Aldous Huxley’s famous novel, the story is retold with innovating staging, ultimately casting a new light on the themes of the original text.
While at points the play seemed conceptually confused, overall the many creative aspects of the show were brilliantly executed. We are plunged into a world of mechanical living, from the meticulous engineering of reproduction to the systematically enforced consumption of ‘soma’, a drug which serves both as a recreational, mind-numbing stimulant as well as a useful population-culling device. This dystopian civilisation is created through excellently choreographed physical theatre. This physical story-telling is heightened by excellent production: sound design aligns with the movement, and the inventive minimalist staging draws the attention to the brilliant projections.
Though the play begins with a disillusioned Bernard Marx (Patrick Orme) and his seeming inability to conform to a mass-produced world, the show is quickly overtaken by the more interesting aspects. Namely, this is Lenina Crowne’s (Amelia Holt) mutual fascination and romantic intrigue with John (Lucy Miles), a discovered savage in a world where romance, family, and depth of emotion have been done away with. Helmholtz Watson (Nicole Jacobus) outshines Bernard both as a member of the dystopian world but also as a character within the play. The performers carry the show with admirable energy and passion, with John ultimately captivating the performance. The chemistry between the characters plays excellently in the slightly over-long show; a notable moment is Linda (Esme Sanders) recounting her adjustment to savage life. The various eccentric characters portrayed by Louis Cunningham never fail to inject humour into the unfolding tragedy.
Despite the brilliant choreography and production, there were times when the interpretation of the futuristic world fell flat. The violent ending of the play ideally requires an audience that is invested in the outcome of the story, as we should want to know the fate of the characters as much as they do. However, at times, such as when a certain seagull passes through the stage, I found myself wondering if I had been taking the play too seriously.
Overall, conceptually, the show succeeds as a 21st century production of an 86-year-old novel, by placing women in the centre of the stage in unexpected ways. Certain minor elements of the performance also distorted, or at least confused, my sense of the world. For example, it is unclear how, after hundreds of years of wars, state control and social sorting, the only thing to have survived unscathed in both the civilised and savage world is a seeming acceptance of gender fluidity, despite the shame-culture that exists in both. In fact, despite many monologues about how horrible and frightening the Brave New World was, I struggled to feel a sense of fear. There remain many aspects of Huxley’s ‘civilised world’ that would still frighten us today: the extreme determinism of genetic engineering, sorting people into alphas or betas, where love is prohibited and government-administered drugs are coupled with a social-institutional pressure to engage in orgies. Yet, many techno-beats and sensual acrobatics later, I was still unsure what it was I was supposed to fear, and what Brave New World was trying to tell me.