Brave New World gets off to a strong start with The Director announcing from on high the aims and objectives of the Brave New World of Central London Conditioning Centre: the key slogan of 'No social stability with individual stability!' is flourished and reiterated. The role is perfectly played by Marcus Knight-Adams, a fine student actor, with metallic, robotic voice and glutinous ad-man grin, a proselytizing zealot. He was succeeded by a quasi-chorus of citizens, its ranks often bolstered by the lead players, and for the most part clad in anodyne white, bearing the mannered look of Hinkley Point C technicians or maybe dental nurses.
The material has been adapted by the indefatigably versatile Miranda Mackay from Huxley's short novel from 1932, and she has taken care to convey the essential ideas at its centre. This boils down to an examination of the merits of happiness and liberty, expressed as conflicting states rather than harmonious elements of a successful society. As the scenes roll by, this debate is kicked around primarily in terms of the State's powers and responsibilities as opposed to the individual's freedom of action and desires: 'Liberty to be a square peg in a round hole leads to disaster', we were told.
The outcome of the struggle is skewed by the State's institutionalised use of Soma, perhaps a type of barbiturate, designed to keep its takers in a state of docile activity and obedience. Little video screens suspended by the tree branches flashed up hortatory messages, typically advertising the beneficial properties of the drug or requesting SILENCE, MY DEAR, DEAR FRIENDS; the warning all the more chilling for being so artfully polite. A number of scenes concluded with a disembodied but strangely comforting tannoy voice announcing; 'End of shift, end of shift...' as our players melt away, doubtless to be replaced by their cloned successors.
Where I felt the material succeeded less well was as human drama, without which the documentary element risks slipping into aridity. Most of our characters were Soma-soporific, nurtured, so we were told, in bottles rather than by their parents – at one point The Director shrieks: 'Mother? Even the very word is obscene!' and the very uttering of the word 'father' evokes gales of laughter. Exchanges between characters were in consequence limited in real force and development, leading me to feel especially in the first half that a number of scenes ran on for a couple of minutes too long.
The early voice dissenting from the State's grip, exemplifying how conditioning is not always successful, was that of Bernard Marx. He is weighed down by doubt but unable to summon up the energy to translate unease into action. As Bernard, Patrick Orme effectively conveys the angst of the misfit, for instance when told: 'No crime is as heinous as unorthodoxy'. Yet his doubts lead him towards something of a dramatic cul-de-sac in that his would-be romantic relationship with the relatively de-Somatised Lenina Crowne (Amelia Holt, pleasingly lively) peters out and his passivity is replaced by the much more vigorous force of John, a seeker of God and a free-thinker in this Brave New World where its citizens tend to communicate in slogans or rhetoric. The role is handled with much delicacy and presence by an excellent Lucy Miles, but in a sense the character's breath of fresh air blows through the theatre a little too late, and in any case her displays of emotion are not really reciprocated by those at whom she directs them, leading to a slight sterility of human and dramatic interaction.
What must be said loud and clear is that Four Seven Two Productions have staged the play with great style and precision. The angular, cleverly-conceived set by Thomas Robertson is a platform with steps leading up to it, and further steps continuing up to a stylized tree. The actual playing space is quite small, but director Georgie Botham has made it seem bigger, placing the chorus with ease upon it. I admired the care taken over individual action and reaction from its every member at all times, indicating hours of concentrated preparation. The choreographed group movement was both fun and slightly menacing. They shuffled and glided in little ambiguous movements that added to the queasy effect of abnormality even as announcements by PA system and from The Director and his acolytes did their best to persuade us of the inevitable normality of this Brave New World.
The lighting programme, I think by Seb Dows-Miller, dovetailed seamlessly with John Paul's sound design to create scenes in which the chorus' sanitised white turned into glaring red-and-white while techno music growled away, and then surreal mauve-lilac was followed by shocking pink, their outfits a-dazzle with luminous, acid-yellow belts and straps.
This was a bold venture from Four Seven Two. Even if one's impression at the end is that Huxley's influential treatise of ideas remains a beast that's fairly intractable and resistant to the process of shoehorning it into a drama peopled by characters whom we may recognize as fully human, few stones of imagination have been left unturned here in its realization. Warmly recommended to the thinking theatregoer.