I grew up listening to Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds with my parents and the epic Eve of the War theme made a particular impact (who isn’t stunned by that motif’s brilliance?) so I couldn’t resist the pull of the final arena tour to see and hear it live.
The grand, apocalyptic scale of the music worked excellently in the vast O2 arena. Led by Jeff Wayne himself, with a string orchestra on one side and progressive rock band on the other, the sound alone was capable of transporting the listener into the story, even without the drama shown on the video screen behind. One particularly memorable moment came in the opening section when, as Eve of the War’s call and response motif kicked in with a vengeance alternating between the two sections of musicians, flashing lights switched between them with a simple but powerful effect. It was also very cool to see an actual martian tripod descend into the arena, even though this plan was slightly flawed as I was reliably informed one centre section of the audience could then not see the dramatisation on screen.
Liam Neeson in hologram form worked excellently as the journalist and narrator. His gravelly voice told the story with both majesty and emotion, and it’s hard to imagine any other modern actor who could portray the role as well. Brian McFadden, of Westlife fame, appeared for the journalist’s sung lines – most often, ‘the chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, he said’ – and although he was the weakest singer of the night he still held his own.
Elsewhere within the cast of players, Jason Donovan was superb as Parson Nathaniel and Carrie Hope Fletcher spot on as his (much younger) wife. Shane Ward, one of the most successful X Factor winners, hit some incredibly high notes and sounded consistently good, with possibly the best acting of the lot. The rock-styled Joseph Whelan completed the main cast with an incredible energy in Thunder Child.
For non-conventional music mixing rock and a string orchestra, written in the 1970s to a story from the 1890s, this clever dramatisation has held up extremely well under the baton of Mr Wayne, as proved by the reaction from a huge audience demographic in London. I was very happy to catch this on its ‘final’ tour (quote marks because I’m always sceptical when something is billed as final) and am ecstatic that the work has so far withstood the test of time.