War of the Worlds

Jan 2013 War of the Worlds






The live version of Jeff Wayne’s magnum opus has been pulling the crowds in since 2006, and following the release of a new version of the epic tale of a Martian invasion of the earth, a new realisation on the live stage just couldn’t live up to the original.

Or could it? The answer is a resounding ‘yes it could’!

With a new cast of players, plus added story, dialogue and effects, Jeff’s creation was – and excuses the pun – out of this world.

The story begins when two amateur astronomers see an eruption of gas on the Martian surface and while one says it could be ships taking off from Mars, the other states that it is probably just a volcanic phen-omenon.

We are taken to Mars to witness the council of war where it is decided to invade earth.

The two astronomers were acted out on stage and the scenes on Mars were visualised by the use of hi-tech animation on a screen 24 Metres wide and 8 metres high – and it was on this screen that, for the rest of the show, state of the art animations complemented the events on stage.

Once the familiar music was unleashed by the on-stage orchestra and the Black Smoke Band (a nonet of musicians, many of whom had graced the live shows before and of which two – bassist Herbie Flowers and guitarist Chris Spedding, featured on the original album in 1978).

And the new scene plus the new arrangements were not the only change.

wotwGone was the floating head of Richard Burton as he had been replaced by Liam Neeson who we saw in three formats: narrating on a screen at the side of the stage, taking part in the action on the big screen, and – most dramatically – on a smaller screen onstage where he was able to interact with the live characters.

At one point, the ‘screen’ Neeson gives The Artilleryman (played superbly by Ricky Wilson of The Kaiser Chiefs) a drink – and Wilson actually takes the drink and drinks it!

Another sequence has ‘screen’ Neeson punching Parson Nathaniel (Jason Donovan).

Such choreography and action has to be timed to perfection – and it was, thus giving the rapt audience a hint of the work and rehearsal that has gone into this production.

The story is essentially the same as we had seen before, but Jeff Wayne has added little flourishes and bits of dialogue – something that he could only do by replacing Richard Burton with Liam Neeson as there was no more Burton on tape.

Jason Donovan – on his return to the production (he played The Artilleryman during the last tour in 2010) – was excellent as the insane Parson and the casting of an actor who can sing made a difference as all the previous Parsons were just singers.

Kerry Ellis as Beth made a lovely counterpart to the crazed cleric and her ascent into Heaven was as emotional as they come, as well as another brilliant effect.

The key role of the Sung Thoughts of The Journalist (previously Justin Hayward, and on the new album Gary Barlow) was undertaken by Marti Pellow.

Pellow has a different type of voice than either Hayward or Barlow, being lower and having a bit of tremolo. But he did a good job, especially on the emotive Forever Autumn which always delights the audience when the leaves fall from the skies (causing the staff at the Arena a big sweep-up job).

The tale of the doomed ship Thunder Child brought out an amazing performance by Jettblack frontman Will Stapleton and Ricky Wilson’s Artilleryman had just about the correct amount of unhinged arrogance necessary for the role.

As in previous tours, the star was of course the Martian Fighting Machine which dominated the stage for much of the show (but at times blocked the view of the on-screen animations).

And it was the MFM which brought the show – in front of a sell-out crowd – to an end by blasting the NASA technician when the Martians decide to try again.

So, as with the album, Jeff Wayne has managed to improve an already perfect creation.

Martin Hutchinson