THE super-modern backdrop of Oxford’s answer to American shopping malls provides the set for Creation Theatre’s production of Aldous Huxley’s disturbing dystopian story Brave New World.
The bottom floor of the newly re-built Westgate Centre is the perfect setting for a story set at least 100 years into the future (even though it was first written 87 years ago).
So, even though I normally avoid shopping centres as much as possible, this time I was excited to be at the Westgate. I was handed a pair of headphones through which I would hear an audio feed of effects and dialogue. (A clever technical touch which meant that only those with tickets would be able to follow the story as the public wandered freely around the shops and bars).
I first read Brave New World when I was a student and could hardly remember the story, but knew it would be disturbing. I had forgotten that Huxley’s fictional world turns values, particularly Christian values on their head. If you believe that we were all “fearfully and wonderfully made” (see Psalm 139) then the idea of babies who are genetically grown rather than conceived is hard to get your head around. And if you believe that all humans should be given the same, fair chance to thrive, the concept of genetic controls influencing your position in society is frightening. In Huxley’s world, promiscuity is the norm, purely for pleasure, certainly not for reproduction. Religion is a think of the past. It’s only certain Alphas – those at the top of the social hierarchy – that are capable of critical thinking and appreciation of art as we know it.
So when Bernard Marx (Joseph Richardson) visits a savage reservation in New Mexico with a female friend, the pair are shocked by what they see. (The inhabitants live as we live.) There they meet Linda, (Clare Humphrey) who was left there by Marx’s boss after he illegally impregnated her years before. Exposing his director’s misdeeds to avoid being deported to Iceland, Bernard takes Linda’s son, John (Adam Karrie) and makes him a celebrity. John quotes from Shakespeare and his passionate performances astound the Brave New World’s inhabitants.
Praise must go to the technical team. The escalators of the Westgate are used cleverly and at times it’s hard to tell where the actors are actually positioned as they speak into small cameras with their images projected onto screens. The angles mean you can see the big stores behind them as they speak.
The delivery of a story first published between the two World Wars, in such a modern setting is clever. Writer/director Jonathan Holloway digs at our current society, mentioning a madman running the Whitehouse, along with problems of disease and destruction, that led to this supposed utopia.
When John passionately announces how empty and pointless the commercialism of Huxley’s created society is, pointing around him to the surrounding retail outlets, I couldn’t help but find myself empathising and agreeing.
Creation’s Brave New World is even better than last year’s production of Orwell’s 1984, staged in Oxford University’s Maths Institute. They are doing dystopia’s very well and I’m looking forward to what they offer in the future. The questions raised by this thought-provoking play could from a great topic for discussion in a relaxed church service or home group setting.
Brave New World runs in the Westgate until August 11. Book tickets here: https://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/brave-new-world/
For a lighter play, more suitable for the whole family, Creation is also putting on a summer production of Swallows and Amazons, also running until August 11. https://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/swallows-and-amazons/