A day at the theatre

Well we finally made it to the Dominion Theatre, London to see Jeff Wayne’s ‘Musical Version of The War of the Worlds’ and of course there’s a little story to tell. Emerging from Euston Station into the cold and rain we followed Euston Road (A501) west beneath dismal, grey skies, making our way steadily across shining, wet pavements for half a mile or so until we came in sight of the iconic G.P.O. Tower on our left. At this point we crossed Euston Road and proceeded south along Tottencourt Road (A400) for around 3/4 mile to arrive at the entrance of the theatre. The Dominion is very easy to find on foot—no tube train journeys necessary, but a brolly was essential.

On passing through the main entrance and were magically transported back in time to a golden era, to a glittering world of striking, shimmering glass chandeliers, highly polished brass railings and luxurious red and gold carpets. I felt as if the show had already begun—but I reckon that must have been Jeff Wayne’s plan along, choosing this old 1920s theatre as the home for his steampunk musical—just to set the scene. My two teenage daughters, all eyes and smiles swept forward towards the merchandise stand and within moments my wallet was £100 lighter—the Jeff Wayne marketing machine never tires, never sleeps… beware. And children—have you no loyalty? What about those ‘Musical Version of The Time Machine’ t-shirts I had specially printed for you? Where are they now, eh?

We ascended one of the wide staircases heading upwards towards the top of the circle. The corridors became narrower, darker, being painted a deep burgundy red with gold detailing. I also became aware that sinister, atmospheric, ‘Waynesque’ ambient music was being piped into the air from hidden speakers, further immersing us in Jeff Wayne’s world. Undeterred we continued on up an even narrower flight of stairs to a small door where an attendent checked our tickets before we entered the gloomy, red darkness of the inner recesses of theatre to take our seats. The stage looked amazing, all cog wheels and steampunk design illuminated with moody red lighting—Jeff Wayne had taken this theatre and made it his own. The atmosphere was alive with the excitement and anticipation of kids and the grown-ups too. Then the lighting dimmed further—the show was about to begin.

This isn’t intended to be an in-depth, blow by blow review of ‘The War of the Worlds’ musical, but I will say that the overall effect was magical, really quiet enchanting. Sure, the performance had its rough patches. Liam Neeson’s narration doesn’t have the gravitas of Richard Burton’s on the original 1978 album, a couple of the lead vocal performances were strained —Wayne had even transposed one song down a semi-tone or two, lowering key in order to make it easier to hit the high notes. But here we go, I’m over-analysing what is an incredibly complex enterprise to pull off—fitting the entire ‘The War of The Worlds’ musical, orchestra, band, dancers, Martian fighting machine and all into a little theatre and successfully making the whole crazy circus show hang together.

The few faults in this musical were eclipsed by what does work and we were all swept along by the superb musicianship, dazzling pyrotechnics, artful use of lighting and beautiful sets and Daniel Bedingfield’s performance as ‘The Artilleryman’ really shines. In some parts it was actually quiet moving. One errie scene that vividly etched itself in my mind was the appearance of a dozen or so children on stage in Victorian dress carrying lanterns and running and playing about the Martian cylinder that had crash-landed on Horsell Common. They were singing, mimicking the sinister alien sounds coming from inside, not knowing the horror that lurks within. Then came that menacing bassline signature for ‘Horsell Common and the Heat Ray’—the sound was incredibly deep and powerful. Wayne has quite obviously put his heart and soul into something he’s genuinely passionate about and I’ve never seen my children so enthralled… and so quiet. There’s definitely something to be said for this theatre-going business—it’s a great day out and as we make our way back to Euston station in the darkling streets, I can’t help but wonder that perhaps, one day, in the not too distant future, this grand old theatre might become the venue for a musical about an inventor and his adventures in his Time Machine…

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