Adaptations of literary classics, for stage and screen, are currently hugely popular. Jane Eyre is on at the National and the BBC is running a series of costume dramas from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to An Inspector Calls.
But, hell, if you’re going to tackle a book, throw caution to the wind and be adventurous.
Nothing comes close to the theatrical experience currently thrilling audiences in Northampton with the Royal & Derngate co-production of Aldous Huxley’s visionary Brave New World.
R&D’s artistic director James Dacre has created a dystopian masterpiece all of his own with engrossing performances, ambitious staging and a moody, futuristic score, using Dawn King’s all-too-realistic adaptation.
What’s shocking is how prescient Huxley’s novel is. Written in the 1930s, there are themes and ideas which may have seemed mad, sci-fi fantasy when published, but are now frighteningly familiar.
Genetic engineering has created a caste system, there’s drug taking on a massive scale, and society is artificially created, nurtured and recycled.
Controversially, children are taught to enjoy sexual stimulation, while, as adults, the men enjoy a different partner every night. The sex is homogenised and readily available.
The government’s mantra is order, stability, happiness. There’s no hunger, sickness, misery or conflict. Everything is controlled, all neat and tidy.
Old fashioned concepts like love, parenting, religion, individuality have been eradicated. Even the desire for a walk in the countryside has been genetically removed in favour of stay-at-home sports.
But there’s a ripple in this Brave New World when a Shakespeare-spouting youth is brought in from the wastelands.
William Postlethwaite’s captivating John The Savage is astonished, surprised, and ultimately disappointed at how society has evolved and progressed.
His reaction to this flawed Utopia is extreme and disturbing but neither the watchable Postlethwaite, or his bold director, stint on a quite harrowing denouement.
Sophie Ward gives a chilling turn as Margaret Mond, the resident world controller of Western Europe.
The icy blonde gives a rational, and entirely plausible explanation, for why the world is as it is and, shockingly, you find yourself agreeing with some of her arguments.
I wanted Gruffudd Glyn’s Bernard Marx to be the story’s reactionary but even he was unable to break out of the system that created him. Still, he gives a strong and engaging performance.
The collaborative effort to produce Brave New World must have been enormous. All credit to Naomi Dawson for her stunning set; original and simply perfect music from These New Puritans; and lighting, sound and video experts Colin Grenfell, George Dennis and Keith Skretch, to name just a few.
A memorable and overwhelming production that pushes the boundaries of modern theatre.
Brave New World, a co-production with Touring Consortium Theatre Company, runs on the Royal stage until Saturday before embarking on a UK tour.
Brave New World
Royal & Derngate’s co-production of Brave New World is a thrilling theatrical experience that is bold, visionary and a modern masterpiece.