Review: Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds (Dominion Theatre) JohnnyFox February 17, 2016 Musicals, Reviews I can take or leave bad productions, rough with the smooth and all that: but when the American owner of one of the largest theatres in London which could house any number of first-rate brand-new Broadway or British provincial musicals persistently serves up tripe, I’m what my primary school headmistress used to call ‘disappointed’. Since We Will Rock You closed and they refurbished the Dominion in 2014 – extremely well it has to be said, seating is comfortable and with only two tiers, sightlines are great, it does feel like a Broadway house – Nederlander has presented little but dross. White Christmas was overpriced shit on a stick, Elf was just overpriced, and merely because Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds hasn’t the nerve to ask £240 a ticket, that doesn’t make the decision to revive it any better. Wayne’s ‘World’ has been kicking about since the late 1970’s when he wrote this famous prog rock album around the same time Pink Floyd produced Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall and completely laid the genre to rest. He deserves medals, though, for still thrashing through these repetitive strains nightly on the conducting platform like a hunched and superannuated Peter Stringfellow. It’s a highly portable show having toured everywhere from Belgium to Bali but there were technical issues and the first preview had to be cancelled. The disappointed on social media split equally between die-hard fans of “the 39th most popular album of all time” who had paid for trains and hotels and missed their chance, and those who actually turned up the next night and hated it. It is so spectacularly beyond bad it’s not even funny. The staging is based mostly on people running terrifically hard towards each other, touching in a friendly or aggressive manoeuvre and running equally hard into the opposite wings where I imagine mattresses are positioned to cushion the impact and keep Bill Kenwright’s liability insurance down to a manageable figure. Most of the men stand angrily three-quarters on to the audience to declaim their banal lyrics whereas the women’s singing is accompanied by head-tilted simpering, my least favourite demesne of musical interpretation as favoured by Jane Macdonald before she was famous, or Lesley Garrett after. At interval when much of the audience bonded over their shared experience of disaster, I saw a cast list. Heidi Range sang forcefully but seemed out of her acting depth: someone told me she was an Atomic Kitten as though that was an excuse. Madalena Alberto, so excellent in Evita, has few expressions but quite a nice mauve coat. Daniel Bedingfield strides about in a dragoon’s jacket and pantomime boots, with no stage presence whatsoever and his high-pitched wailing may be what the show calls for, but it’s not lovely. Elsewhere, good people are just wasted: David Essex is unrecognisable and Jimmy Nail mute for the first act. The space ship looks like a massive steel-helmeted stubby fat cock, especially when the CGI pans lovingly up it from below. And so in a way does Liam Neeson whose hologram is inaudible over the band. Half the audience was camp or ancient or both and when the Martian walking machine came on I heard several people murmur “they peel them with their metal knives“. Oh, the set does something too. At the O2 last year, the apparatus travelled into the arena, but confined to a proscenium arch you have a dozen LED photofloods aimed directly at the audience which can flash red, green, gold, blue and fuchsia. You could pass some time guessing which comes next. There’s also a gas-powered flame box positioned along the front of the stage which can shoot upwards, or diagonally, but not far. Some woman on Twitter claimed it singed her eyebrows but I think she was exaggerating. Still, if you’re in the front row you might take a jumbo bag of marshmallows and a pointy stick. Jules Verne wrote “It seems wisest to assume the worst from the beginning … and let anything better come as a surprise.” You can try.