War with the Newts

Karel Čapek adapted by Tyrell Jones
Knaïve Theatre
The Bunker Theatre

Everal A Walsh Credit: The Other Richard
Nadi Kemp-Sayfi, Everal A Walsh and Sam Redway Credit: The Other Richard
Sam Redway and Nadi Kemp-Sayfi Credit: The Other Richard

Karel Čapek’s satirical swipe at the politics of the 1930s in his novel War with the Newts is given a spirited dramatic outing by Knaïve Theatre down in the Bunker.

Before we can seat ourselves mostly on the big orange crates beneath the green fishing net, our hands get stamped three times, our eyes are given a quick medical check and each of us individually is welcomed on board a refugee ship that is to carry the last of the human survivors.

A series of sketches performed by three actors taking multiple parts give us the history of the catastrophe in which wild Western capitalism turns the newts into its gravediggers by its predatory antics.

The man (Everal A Walsh) who discovers the newts' ability to handle tools promises to help them but instead, as part of a business organisation with an eye for money making, ruthlessly exploits the newts. Humans make them work on all sorts of engineering projects, and exhausts many in slavery. Scientists help to justify the mistreatment by dissecting a live newt to prove it is an inferior species. Racism also emerges in the cruel jokes of ordinary people. As human jobs become more scarce, right-wing political forces begin to rise.

And if all that isn’t enough to irritate any red-bloodied newt, then a proposal by a multinational corporation to cull some ninety percent of the newt population might just bug them somewhat.

The show seems to be speaking about our own times. The inclusion of mobile phones and, for instance, a stirring speech from the character Bondy (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi) that refers to the loss of jobs in a Welsh pit community emphasis its contemporary relevance.

A lot is packed into the running time of seventy-five minutes and most of it is engaging with the occasional really funny moment, such as the the newt negotiations with humans in which the United Nations representative (Sam Redway) appears in a newt bath as a rather stupid gesture of supposed cultural sensitivity.

And with a nod to the way humans have even mistreated other humans, the newt representative is not quite the newt that humans were expecting.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna