Friday, March 17, 2017

The Power of Radio: H. G. Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORKDS

Radio drama within the United Kingdom continues to flourish, despite being largely neglected by the mainstream media, both in print sand online  Apart from a few paragraphs in weekly radio columns, there is not much to read.

This oversight seems a terrible shame, given that radio drama adaptations can provide critical insights that the visual media can only dream about.

Such was the case with Melissa Murray's dramatization of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, a two-parter broadcast on 4 and 11 March 2017.  There were no fancy special effects: instead the Martians' presence was signaled by an ominous-sounding hum forming a backdrop to the action.  Director Marc Beeby was far more concerned with the effect of the catastrophe on humanity.  Robert Fenton (Blake Ritson) began the adaptation  as a confident, well-ınformed scientist determined to root out the aliens and save the country.  By the end, he had been reduced into a gibbering wreck, because of the sheer strain of trying - and failing - to accomplish his quest.

Beeby communicated his state of mind through an ingenious process of sonic layering.  As he talked about his state of mind in a series of lengthy speeches, we could hear the hum of the Martians, the strangled screams of their human victims, together with the squelching sound of Fenton's boots on the saturated ground.

Thematically speaking the production looked both backwards and fıorwards into history.  As the Martians overran a small village - sıgnaled through muffled screams coupled with Fenton's observations to the listeners - we realize that the Victorian world of security and order had collapsed.  No one knew what to look forward to in a world dominated by superior beings who treated humanity as food and caught them in large nets before eating them.

Yet Beeby suggested that this was actually the fault of humanity itself.  They had happily existed in a colonial world, treating other peoples with as much contempt as the Martians were treating them.  Now the British were experiencing their comeuppance as they were the victims of a cannibal-like race of übermenschen.  The Nietszchıan reference was palpable.  We felt distinctly uncomfortable, as we realized that what the United States has been recently doing, in terms of restricting immigration, is precisely what the British were doing over a century and a half ago.  Perhaps the American government ought to watch out in case they suffer a ssimilar fate.

This theme was played out purely through sound and dialogue: the mounting hysteria of Fenton contrasted with Billy's (Samuel James') insouciance in the face of catastrophe.  Billy seemed perfectly willing to embrace dystopia, in the belief that its presence was inevitable and could not be removed.

Although the Martiand eventually departed, they left a world that could never be the same.  Deprived of its self-respect, its pride, and even its place-names, it was a place that no one respected.  Fenton discovered this to his cost as he returned home to find his wife Margaret (Sanchia McCormack) pottering about their house as if nothing had happened.  In true British fashion, she had simply suppressed the past and resolve to live a Voltairean life cultivating her own garden, paying no attention to the outside world.

With no gargantuan special effects and minimal use of music, Beeby's adaptation underlined the power of the human voice to communicate the theme of the novel.  This was a psychological/ historical drama rather than science fiction, revealing more about the source-text than I ever could have imagined.

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