Brave New World
Is this our real life, is this just fantasy?
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1930 and set it in 2540, and whilst its themes were, for the time of original publication, rather fantastical, the warnings he cleverly cloaked in the futuristic science fiction are today more relevant and worrying than ever before. His portrayal of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ , of recognising, ney classifying ,the population into units of function and the acceptance that ‘the state’ can, through a utilitarian approach, decide what is best for everyone is so close to today’s western society that he was either extremely farsighted or a soothsayer to rival Nostradamus. The blinkered and unerring belief by our current government that their austerity measures are the ONLY way to progress is all but Huxley’s new world made real, save for the fact that we have yet to enjoy the use & overuse of Soma – the wonder drug of ‘pleasure’ and compliance.
Oft read by students of modern literacy, beatnicks and wannabe social commentators alike, Brave New World has, for the most part, resisted an effective translation to the stage; that is until Dawn King, together with James Dacre and the Touring Consortium Theatre Company embarked on reminding everyone just how powerful and disturbingly brilliant this modern classic is.
Set in the future, there was always a temptation to overplay the ‘tomorrows world’ part of Huxley’s vision, yet, to King’s credit, she has ensured that everything is instantly recognisable to today's culture; people are classified by their education, their breeding and their usefulness – whilst modern medicine and research are not quite ready to mass produce embryos to order, the technology and, in many circles, the desire most certainly exists. Likewise, having a state that actively promotes the pursuit of material happiness while allowing an over-dependence on prescription medication (ie Antibiotics, anti-depressants and general analgesics) is readily assimilated into the thoughts and feelings conditioning which forms the bedrock of the 2540 future state.
Under Dacre’s expert directing, we are constantly feeling that, as observers of this new world, we would never let things get this bad and yet we have, we do and no doubt we will continue to – as is so poignantly explained it is the ‘ice berg’ society – the elite sit above the water while 8 ninths work furiously below the surface to keep them afloat. Coupled with some brilliant soundtracking by These New Puritans who bring a delicious and heady mix very reminiscent of Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, The Orb and my favourite, Wendy Carlos, the overall effect is like the unwritten upper class side of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange – a sort of what happened next once Alex & Dim and the gang were rounded up and dispatched to an island.
Gruffudd Glyn, as Bernard Marx wrestles perfectly with his deep seated desire to ‘fit in’, to comply, to meet the expected social norm within this Brave New World, and yet, as a class pariah, he really knows that it is only through good luck that he still holds a higher cast status – the Director and many of his acquaintance view him as a bit of a freak and certainly not one of the pure form they subscribe to. People are created in labs, to order and are genetically programmed so that, once grown they will fulfil their place in the class tree – there is no place for feelings, free thought or even dreams. Besotted with Lenina (Olivia Morgan) he happens on a chance to take her to the outside, an opportunity to witness first hand the ‘savages’ or classless outcasts who still hold sway to the old ways of thinking; religion, superstition and family values. Whilst on this trip, they find an ex-lover of the Director and, more importantly, his bastard adult son, John (William Postlewaite) whom he never knew existed. Believing this would grant him an exalted status and give chance to undertake a social experiment akin to a futuristic Pygmalion , Bernard persuades them to return to the new world with him & Lenina.
What transpires is a conflict between Johns supposed savage ways (he is well versed in poetry, Shakespeare and philosophy) and society’s desire to control, to conform and to suppress individuality – the feelings & emotions run very high as he is first touted a cause celebre, then mocked for not following the norm and finally cast out as a savage heathen, his ideals in ruins and his hope that society would be a better place completely smashed. The ending, though rather swift in the telling, leaves a very deep feeling of unease – more so because writers, directors and film-makers keep issuing these warnings and yet we, as mankind, keep ignoring them – think King Kong, ET, the fore-mentioned Clockwork Orange, all of which show that the ruling classes believe that control is the only way for progression. Even once the tragic end is done, we are returned back to the original start, the process must continue and the lessons, scarcely realised, are never learned.
Huxley’s take on a future world was originally a sci-fi piece with a nod to potential social commentary, now it almost reads like a joint editorial from the Lancet and The New Statesman. This production is by far the most powerful and entertaining piece of theatre seen this year; every school child should be made to watch it lest we hope that they will not make the same mistakes of the generations that come before them.