Based on the book by Aldous Huxley of the same name, Brave New World has been masterly adapted for the stage by Dawn King. Set in a dystopian future of a constructed society consisting of genetically engineered people, the play raises several emotional, scientific and moral questions about progress and about what it means to be human. In a world where ‘everyone belongs to everyone’, are ‘conditioned’ to act in a certain way and to like and dislike specific things, the play holds back no punches.
The set consists of sharp lines, squares and parallel geometric structures. These emphasise the underlying structure and nature of this futuristic society, where deviants and deviant behaviour from the norm are not tolerated, and anything that sets you apart from the rest of society is possibly catastrophic. It is a sterile world, where individuals have very little individuality. Transitions between scenes are fluid, and the same surfaces are instantly transformed for a new purpose.
Although there is a lot of explaining taking place, particularly in the first half of the play, it does not grow wearisome. Combined with the lighting and sound effects, which are used to perfection, it adds drama and a sinister feel to the New London setting. In fact, the visual and audial representations of the effects of the Soma (a drug that induces feelings of happiness and lust) and the Solidarity Group class (a space for eliminating inhibitions and boundaries between people) enhance the realism and the consuming effect of the reality of the play. The play is incredibly dynamic and physical, with many sensual and provocative moments, yet the characters themselves are emotionally restrained.
William Postlethwaite does a fantastic job of acting the role of John the Savage, a man caught between the two opposing realities in the play: the New Londoners and those on the Savage Reservation. Born naturally by Linda, an abandoned New Londoner among the savages, John is the only character in the play with familial bonds. Because of his heritage, the Savages reject him from their society; in New London, he is educated, but not conditioned. Brought into New London, his attempts to rebel and cause changes to the society he finds himself in fail because he is displaced, being nether a part of nor excluded from their society. Growing up he immersed himself in the world of Shakespeare, and his frequent quotations of the Bard are highly amusing and satirical, mocking the attitudes of those around him. Yet the strict morals and teachings in these works make him unable to respond to, or accept those of, the conditioned people, and this ultimately leads to his shocking end.
The play challenges its audience to engage with issues raised in the play, and its cyclical nature leaves the spectators with an uneasy feeling. Brave New World is an edgy, slick and perfectly executed piece of theatre, and the beauty of Brave New World is its universal and timeless relevance to modern society.