Image courtesy of Manuel Harlan
Based on Aldous Huxley’s book of the same name, Brave New World has been masterfully adapted for the stage by Dawn King. Set in a dystopian future of a constructed society consisting of genetically engineered people, the play raises several emotional, scientific and moral questions about progress and about what it means to be human. In a world where ‘everyone belongs to everyone’ and people are ‘conditioned’ to act in a certain way, to like and dislike specific things, the play pulls no punches.
William Postlethwaite does a fantastic job in the role of John the Savage, a man caught between the two opposing societies represented in the play: the New Londoners and those on the Savage Reservation. A savage abandoned in New London, John is the only character in the play with familial ties. Educated but not conditioned, John is rejected from both Savage and New London society. His attempts to rebel and change society fail because he is displaced, being nether a part of nor excluded from either society. Growing up, John immersed himself in the world of Shakespeare, and his frequent quotations of the Bard are both highly amusing and satirical, mocking the attitudes of those around him.
The set consists of sharp lines, squares and parallel geometric structures. These emphasise the underlying structure and nature of this futuristic society, where deviants and deviant behaviour from the norm are not tolerated and anything that sets you apart from the rest of society is potentially catastrophic. It is a sterile world, where individuals are allowed little individuality. Transitions between scenes are fluid, with the stage being transformed for new purposes throughout.
A significant portion of the first half is dedicated to explaining the workings of this dystopian society. However, this does not grow wearisome. Combined with the lighting and sound effects, which are used to perfection, it adds both drama and a sinister feel to the New London setting. In fact, the visual and audial representations of the effects of the Soma (a drug that induces feelings of happiness and lust) and the Solidarity Group class (a space for eliminating inhibitions and boundaries between people) enhance the realism and the all-consuming effect of the play. The play is incredibly dynamic and physical, with many sensual and provocative moments, yet the characters themselves are emotionally restrained.
The play challenges its audience to engage with the issues raised in the play, with its cyclical nature leaving the spectators with an uneasy feeling. Brave New World is an edgy, slick and perfectly executed piece of theatre, its beauty being in its universal and timeless relevance to modern society.