REVIEW: Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, Metro Radio Arena

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IT is six years now since War of the Worlds first went on the road, but the big crowd at the Arena this week was testimony to the continuing popularity of the orchestral stage show drawn from the iconic album.

With the cheapest tickets costing more than £40 each, there could hardly have been a clearer demonstration of the enduring attraction of the marriage of Wayne’s 1978 concept album and H.G. Wells science-fiction classic.

As ever, the dramatic, booming music coupled with gentle melodies, flawlessly played by top musicians, and interspersed with dramatic episodes from the book was a winning combination.

There’s simply nothing like it anywhere else.

This time though there was something of a twist in the tale with Wayne looking to update the original show, perhaps for fear of it being repetitive or tired.

Although the songs remain the same, and the prop of the giant Martian spewing flame at the audience is still the centrepiece of a quite epic stage show, Richard Burton’s holographic narration has been replaced by Liam Neeson’s more updated and interactive version, while Marti Pellow takes on the role traditionally played by Justin Hayward on the original album and on stage.

The changes allow Wayne to explore different versions of the drama, in particular the journalist’s love and search for his fiancee Carrie against the backdrop of the alien invasion. They also allow the story to flow more, rather than relying on a series of set-pieces based on the album.

Neeson of course is a veteran of blue screen acting from his Star Wars’ days and the most effective change is when he “appears” on stage to interact with the cast members.

People I spoke to who were seeing it for the first time were thrilled by the experience and oblivious to the changes – which suggests this new version might extend the show’s longevity.

But as someone lucky enough to see it a couple of years ago, I couldn’t stop myself from hankering for a drama unimproved by progress, a War of the Worlds with Burton and Hayward who, in my view are as much a part of this show as Wayne’s music and Wells’ words.

Graeme Anderson