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PETER FROST is impressed by a powerful adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel in Northampton

Brave New World at the Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton/Touring

*****

ARTISTIC Director James Dacre and his team at the Royal and Derngate are carving an enviable reputation for innovative productions, often of previously ignored classic works.

A few months ago it was Arthur Miller’s The Hook, given its premiere at the Northampton venue decades after Miller wrote the play.

Now they’ve done it again. Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1932 during the Great Depression yet it has never had a serious stage adaptation until director Dacre and writer Dawn King took the initiative.

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Their spectacular production updates but still accurately reflects Huxley’s future where a genetically engineered class system seems to have brought health, order and stability to a world without books, dissent, family, religion, love or war.

Sex is just for pleasure, promiscuity has no stigma. Sophisticated advertising drives the economy.

Everyone, it seems, is happy until the arrival of a Shakespeare-quoting savage (William Postlethwaite) threatens this alleged perfection. He changes lives and offers the only glimmer of hope.

So how do Huxley’s grim predictions stand up after more than 80 years?

What of the general population’s reliance on the mind-altering drug soma? That didn’t happen did it, although I did notice most of the hacks on press night hurrying to the free bar to top up on dry white wine.

The only real weakness of this production is how it treats gender. True, it changes Huxley’s Regional World controller from a Mustapha to a Margaret, played by a masterful Sophie Ward (below). Yet the top in vitro fertilisation plant managers are all men who look like BMW salesmen while the leading female character (Olivia Morgan) still spends too much time titivating herself for the boys.

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The biggest difference between Huxley’s brave new world and the one we currently inhabit is that in his those in power get their position by brain power — albeit via manufactured intelligence — rather than wealth. Any day now, apparently, the world’s richest and most powerful 1 per cent will own 99 per cent of the entire world’s money. Should anyone plead some correlation between enormous wealth and intelligence, Prince Charles, Paris Hilton and Donald Trump offer contradictory evidence.

The value of Huxley’s original predictions are of course open to debate but don’t draw any conclusions until you have seen this innovative and brave new production.

Runs until September 26, box office: royalandderngate.co.uk and then tours, details: touringconsortium.co.uk

This review first appeared in the Morning Star 15 Sept 2015

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