The West End's Dominion Theatre is one of the largest in town — a soulless old barn of a place, but peculiarly well suited to rock shows. We Will Rock You, of course, had a 12 year run there — and was seen by over 6.5m people. (And Dave Clark's Time, with a succession of pop stars that included Cliff Richard and David Cassidy, played there in the 80s).
Now it is the turn for Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds, a rock version of the HG Wells story that was first released as a concept album in 1978 — the same year, incidentally, that Evita made its way from concept album to the stage as well — to finally reach the West End. A stage version has long been a touring staple to places like the Royal Albert Hall and arena stages around the country, with casts led by such stars as Jason Donovan, Russell Watson and Rhydian Roberts.
Now the Martians have landed at the Dominion — looking something like a cross between one of those Philippe Starck designed Alessi fruit juice squeezers and the helicopter from Miss Saigon — in this frequently spectacular musical stage adaptation of the famous HG Wells story. Bob Tomson's production spits fire — literally — so often that you fear for the safety of the theatre, never mind the cast.
It also offers a few more mellow moments when autumn leaves sprinkle from the ceiling all over the front stalls, but it is mostly a restless, relentless visual and aural assault. A huge onstage band — boisterously conducted live by Jeff Wayne himself — give heft to the music, with loud rock guitar riffs and wailing strings (an all-female line-up of 13 violinists). And a large ensemble cast are led by pop stars David Essex, Daniel Bedingfield and Heid Range, with theatre actors Michael Praed and Madelena Alberto providing even more substantial vocal heft.
As with Time, which featured a large hologram of Laurence Olivier, The War of the Worlds's biggest acting contribution comes from an actor who doesn't have to actually turn up night after night: Liam Neeson provides heavy duty narration on film, while Praed plays his younger self.
There's not much in the way of real drama, though, in the midst of the overriding spectacle, but — as with We Will Rock You — it is the music that the fans have come to hear and experience live. To that end, this succeeds triumphantly as a live pop pageant or pop video come to 3D life.
"its two big numbers reliably deliver – but the weakness of the venture is that it seems likely to make many theatregoers impatient to experience the novel or the Wayne recording instead."
Mark Lawson for The Guardian
"How do you solve the staging problems of The War of the Worlds? Issue it as a double album and let the listener do the rest."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Despite a few transfixing moments, this misconceived hybrid of concert and theatrical spectacle feels overblown and undercooked."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard