Wayne's Worlds – Motorpoint Arena
Martians, tripods and heat rays, oh my! It’s been thirty four years since the original release of the concept album based on H.G. Wells’ novel that made Jeff Wayne a household name. The New Generation is the latest iteration of the concept, a stage show that amalgamates theatre, live music and cinema to create a unique retelling of the classic sci-fi story.
Starring Marti Pellow, Ricky Wilson (front man of the Kaiser Chiefs), Jason Donovan, Will Stapleton, Kerry Ellis, Liam Neeson (via holography) and conducted by Jeff Wayne the show is quite simply unique. The blend of modern entertainment is unlike any other show, gig or movie I’ve ever seen. Utilising a 100 ft. screen projecting a CGI version of the story with live camera inserts of the stage, holograms, live stage performances, live music and a three tonne Tripod packed with pyrotechnics that fires a flamethrower at the audience; the show balances all its elements whilst ensuring a unique experience for every member of the crowd depending on what they’re focussed on at any one time.
The onscreen CGI is about on par with Doctor Who, and normally I’d be critical of this standard, however when combined with the stage effects and live action it doesn’t strain your suspension of disbelief. The massive onstage Tripod is undoubtedly a highlight of any performance, dwarfing everyone on stage and even incinerating a performer at one point. However it’s not these big things that make the show, it’s the tiny things that most people would miss that ensure the show works so well. Even though it’s live and has production values well in excess of any West End musical you’ll ever see, it has the perfection of an edited movie, the countless hours in rehearsals shine through as the show flows as naturally as an organic process.
Jeff Wayne’s been performing versions of this show for over three decades now, but it’s clear he has the same (if not more) enthusiasm for it now. There’s never a point where you think he, or anyone else on stage, is going through the motions for a paycheque. Everyone on the stage wants to be there to entertain the crowd as best they possible can, and the audience can definitely tell as the underlying enthusiasm and passion is infectious.
Performance of the night undoubtedly was by Kerry Ellis as Beth, the Parson’s Wife. Managing to get such vocal power, empathy and sincerity into ‘The Spirit of Man’ was the strongest part of the second act and underpinned the human drama of the story in contrast to the devastation of act one. The major reason I wanted to go, as my editor will tell you after badgering him for a year (Tell me about it – Ed.), was seeing Liam Neeson perform as a hologram. Ironically this turned out to be the weakest part of the show. Not because of Neeson’s performance, he does very well to take on the mantle that Richard Burton carried for so many years, but because of the technology. Like 3D in cinemas, unless you’re viewing it from exactly where you’re intended to be the effect doesn’t work. However, that’s it for criticisms, and that’s only because technology has still yet to catch up with the imaginative uses we’re wanting it for.
The show moves to Newcastle for tonight, before going on to Glasgow, Bournemouth, London, Brighton and then over to the continent before finishing in Helsinki in mid-January. It’s well worth your time and beer tokens to see if you get chance, even if you aren’t normally into sci-fi, the spectacle is fantastic. There are moments of tragedy, introspection, triumph and dark comedy (including a heat ray dancing to the music like a gunslinger twirling a revolver), the show conducts a symphony of emotion just as well as the musicians do with the score. You’ll never enjoy watching humanity get wiped out more.
Words by Taylor Iscariot