Bunker theatre plays host to Knaïve Theatre’s second production, War With The Newts, which is based on Karel Čapek’s 1936 novel.
As we are immersed in an alternative reality, we are forced to question the play’s intentions and our own beliefs. The staging begins as an immersive experience. I was split up from my theatre friend before entering the space, every audience member scrutinised and allocated a role on the survivors ship based on an attendant’s assessment.
Instead of dissociating from the action after this separation, we become fully submerged in post apocalyptic boat life, seated on deck as digital hosts present us with a fractured bank of corrupted assets (performed by our cast), replaying scenes from the past. We witness how an endangered newt population was exploited by and eventually turned on the human race using skills their masters had taught them.
What’s really exciting about this work is its ability to take risks by presenting the nuances of political, economic and human failure, without relying on polarised statements or neatly packaged-up allegory. It’s almost more controversial and revolutionary to bridge a narrative than play to polarised echo chambers, which is exactly what this theatre company is trying to do.
Knaïve Theatre (describing itself as serving ‘to connect, challenge and empower the younger generation’) is bringing together themes in post-Brexit society that make us challenge the intentions of this play based on our own beliefs and our flaws in being willing to grasp complexities involved in understanding the beliefs of others. It is completely up to our own perceptions how we take on the themes. Is it about the rise of the far right? The end of capitalism? Fears of change, empathy or commentary on the migrant crisis or climate change?
The cast had a lot to take on amidst a complex staging of lighting, soundscape and set design. Everal A Walsh took on roles with humour and depth as a well-meaning sea captain and a blundering and slightly sinister scientist, which kept the audience firmly rooted in the humanity and surrealism of the drama.
Nadi Kemp-Sayfi delivered an exceptional variety of performances with distinction, including a stand-out moment with her economic rally-cry.
Sam Redway displayed an impressive range of talents with his roles, including a funny and alarming portrayal of a helpless British diplomat trying in vain to save Britain as the chaos (a metaphor for Brexit?) unfolded.
The cast also took part in a Q+A at the end of the session to help make sense of the play’s discussion of themes resonating with the audience after watching. And getting people talking is exactly what this play does. I spoke to Dan Dawes, founder of Idle Discourse theatre company at the end in the theatre’s quaint little bar, and our chat really crystallised the experience. We agreed that flaws can be overlooked, as War With The Newts generates debate that is nuanced, democratic and challenges us to come together in an increasingly partisan world.
Title: War With the Newts Venue: Bunker Theatre, London Bridge Cast: Everal A Walsh, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi, Sam Redway Writer and Director: Tyrrell Jones Dramaturg: Matthew Xia Composer: Robert Bentall Set and Costume Design: Hannah Sibai Producer: Alice Barber Tickets: https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/war-with-the-newts Dates: 9th -27th October
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