Mike Archer cracks HG Wells’ visionary story, The Crystal Egg, for innovative show at The Vaults

What would you do if you knew you were being watched… watched by someone you were not even aware was there? Is it paranoia – or something else?

Adapted from one of HG Wells short stories, and brought to life at The Vaults, Waterloo, Old Lamp Entertainment is staging a new adaptation of The Crystal Egg and it’s multi-sensory, multi-disciplinary presentation would have delighted the futuristic writer of the Time Machine.

The production is the creation of writer and producer Mike Archer who fell in love with Wells’ work as a child and has spent more than a decade pursuing a dream to bring this particular tale the stage.

Mike, and director Elif Knight, have taken time out of rehearsals to explain to Stage Review their innovative ideas for this Victorian interstellar story that was ahead of its time.

The Crystal Egg Live is set in 19th century East London. After watching his father dash into the night, Charley Wace is taken in by Uncle Cave, an eccentric man who, with his dysfunctional family, runs a curiosity shop in London’s Seven Dials Rookery.

When the body of his father is found in the river, Charley inherits the sole possession found with him – a crystal egg.

Believing the object to be of value, the family plan to sell it quickly and improve their lives.

Mark Parsons (in rehearsal)

But one night Uncle Cave makes a chance discovery about the seemingly innocent item that threatens to tear the family apart and plunge the world into danger.

Fusing multiple art forms including light, sound, video, and performance; the production will bring to life the work of the visionary author.

Edwin Flay plays HG Wells, Des Carney is Charley and Mark Parsons is Mr Cave.

They are joined by Caroline Main, Jess Boyde, Piers Hunt and Vincent Latorre.

Mike Archer has been fascinated by HG Wells from a young age and was introduced to the book over ten years ago.

He has since harboured deep ambitions to bring this lesser known but equally fascinating story to life.

We caught up with Mike, who’s adapted the book for the stage, and director and script editor Elif Knight to find out more about this ambitious production.

Edwin Flay & Des Carney (in rehearsal)

Said Mike: “I have been a fan of Wells’ work since I was a child. I watched the 1950s War of the Worlds at the age of seven and it left a huge mark.

“Then I read the book and I found it was even better, and I have been hooked ever since.

“In a way, I have always wanted to do something inspired by Wells.

“I encountered The Crystal Egg back in 2005, and was taken with the idea that the short story serves as an unofficial prequel to The War of the Worlds, expanding the idea’s and themes of the invasion from Mars.

“Yet it is only in recent years, that I suddenly started to feel like the story was gaining more relevance, especially with issues like internet privacy.

“The Crystal Egg Live is very much an invasion story for the now, where invasion generally tends to be a lot more covert and that, for me, is a scary notion.

“You also have the contrast of a technologically superior object residing in a simple family home – that is how we approached it… a technological invasion of the family.

“Fundimentally, at the heart of our story is a family drama, and people don’t change much.

“Setting it as a period piece is a way for us to underline the social message and the science fiction, but ultimately this is about people with recognizable problems that we can all relate to.

“Part of the beauty of Wells’ writing, and what makes him a visionary, is that it demonstrates so clearly how he wrote with a finger on the pulse of society.

“He reflected the concerns and ideas of the time in his books. He knew science, but, moreover, he wrote about people and their interaction with it.

“It’s one of the reasons why his writing still finds favour and why, when his work is recontextualised to take into account current affairs, it still holds weight.

“I think the messages of The Crystal Egg have changed in line with current social issues.

“In 1897, Wells wrote the story at the height of the Victorian fascination of life on Mars, and the book is ultimately an expression of that scientific idea.

“By the 1950s, when it was adapted into the Tales of Tomorrow series, there was more of a focus on the militaristic undercurrent applicable with the Cold War.

“You only have to ask yourself ‘Why would they be watching?’

“In adapting the work, we cannot ignore the fact we are in uncertain times with a social anxiety about our own privacy, which I feel The Crystal Egg now taps into.

“It’s an anxiety that seems to have grown in the last year or so. The fact that we do not know who is watching us, how they are watching us, or where they are watching us from.

“It is an unnerving concept, but also one that is ambiguous in nature. The egg exists in this plane of ambiguity between an object for good and an object for ill and we want to embrace that.

“In a way, the egg can be seen as a metaphor for many things: The technological invasion we have all succumbed to with our laptops, TVs and phones; the embodyment of greed and desire or even addiction and escapism.

“Also, I think audiences are a lot more sophisticated. We want more.

“I recently saw Alice’s Adventures Underground, and what fascinated me, was the appreciation of the story being in an immersive environment and witnessing it.

“So it is important for us to also allow the audience to feel that uncertainty, curiosity and fear of the original story, from the inside out”.

Elif, the show’s director, is also an actor. She told Stage Review: “I recognised straight away that a production of this scale would require all my time and mental space to fully develop the richness it has to offer (there’s a LOT going on!).

“I don’t want to give too much away , but I can certainly say that it will be a visual feast for the eyes and all senses!

Elif Knight with cast

“Audiences will be able to touch, hear, smell, feel, see a lot as they wonder the streets of Victorian London! There will also be a cinematic quality to the show as well!

“The location is a major player in this drama. When you are in the space you feel like you are really in the underbelly of gritty, dirty, London.

“The air and smell is musky and acrid. The fact that its a tunnel and you hear trains going above you from time to time just takes you some place immediately.

“I personally feel that I have gone back in time to the Victorian era when I am there. The Vaults has a sort of eerie feel to it, so all these elements can be very helpful in adding layers to the show”.

The Crystal Egg Live plays at The Vaults, from January 6-13.

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