Friday, 18 September 2015

Brave New World

Dawn King reminds us that Aldous Huxley’s dystopian vision Brave New World is the one we inhabit now

Written by Robert Gore-Langton
Robert-Gore-Langton-176When he was a master at Eton, novelist Aldous Huxley taught Eric Blair French. Young Blair would later change his name to George Orwell. Huxley’s Brave New World would have remained the greatest science fiction novel of the century had not his pupil gone on to write 1984. The difference is that while Orwell depicted the boot-in-the-face tactics of fascism and communism, Brave New World, set 500 years in the future, is about the more subtle tyranny of state-enforced happiness. It is spookily prescient.

The novel satirically celebrates youth, genetic enhancement, casual sex and a society where everything emotionally messy has been cleaned up. Religion is regarded as primitive. Death is sanitised and grief abolished.

Everyone belongs to a rigidly enforced caste system with Alpha Pluses – a test-tubecreated elite – at the top.

Sexy actresses in bodyhugging suits take a bliss-inducing pill called Soma, so they all sound moronic. All is lovely until Alpha Plus scientist Bernard – played with geeky charm by Gruffudd Glynn – goes to a Savage Reservation and brings back a wild native who quotes Shakespeare (the novel’s title comes from The Tempest) and thinks human pain, love and spirituality are good things, to the horror of his ‘civilised’ hosts. No one can accuse this cast of not having Alpha Plus genes. Sophie Ward, who plays Alpha Plus Margaret Mond, is the daughter of late actor Simon Ward; the savage is William Postlethwaite, son of the late Pete Postlethwaite. The director is James Dacre, son of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre.

The elegant Miss Ward wears a smirk of condescension apt for a play in which the smugness of this utopia is stifling.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the book when it came out was the idea of sexual promiscuity being a virtue. Was Huxley (perhaps enviously) sending up Noël Coward’s jazzy generation of cocaine-snorting sexual swingers? One wonders.

Dawn King’s adaptation gets across the creepy numbness of the future, though at times she struggles to usher in any real drama. But for the most part this is a thought-provoking evening with loud, eerie music and an acting style that’s as amusingly inane as any shampoo advert.

You don’t need to know the book to enjoy the show’s satire. In this brave new world full of disgust at infirmity, celebration of the new and shiny, suspicion of faith and wonderment, it feels as if Huxley’s imaginary future has already come to pass.

Until 26 September at the Theatre Royal, Northampton, then on tour until 5 December.

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