The War of the Worlds

Based on the novel by H G Wells
Grist to the Mill
Gilded Balloon Teviot

The War of the Worlds

Having successfully stunned audiences this year with The Ballad of Mulan, Grist to the Mill has brought the classic tale of the Martian invasion of Earth beginning near the small town of Woking in Surrey to the Festival Fringe stage.

Ericsson, all lank-haired and wild-eyed, begins the performance in a stage of nervous and guilty excitement. His nameless protagonist begins to talk to himself, piecing together the account of how he found himself in a half-collapsed house and having murdered a curate whose body lies cooling nearby. He’s a man at the end of his tether, and a frank and surprising figure compared to the firm and calm Victorian gentleman to whom we are introduced as the story jumps back in the telling.

It’s a simple and evocative telling of Wells's story, with effective and tastefully sparing use of sound effects and projections on the wall behind the narrator. Certain adaptations have been made to ease the flow of the story, but there are some problems still lingering on from the material’s somewhat lackadaisical feeling in the opening acts.

While the performance doesn’t lack for excitement, and the scenes of visceral carnage as the tripods lay waste to towns and warships alike are enthralling, the problem is that the narrator himself isn’t a very engaging or charismatic character. This is a curious choice as Ericsson has shown time and again in previous hits like Gratiano or The Unknown Soldier that he can bend his persona into vibrantly different and engaging characters.

It remains that perhaps the real issue here is that the adaptation is too faithful, and what really work best are the fleeting moments of humour, horror and humanity, which too often fall by the wayside in the sheer depth of detailed narration of events, which misses the real heart by not evoking the sympathy for the man himself.

It’s certainly a fine adaptation of the book, and one that Wells fans will likely enjoy, and a dark and moody slice of sci-fi for those who have such a fancy of a Fringe afternoon.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan