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War Of The Worlds – Manchester Arena: Live Review

Jeff Wayne returns with War Of The Worlds – the classic story of men from Mars; this time with a more prophetic slant.

Jeff Wayne
Jeff Wayne
Picture: Roy Smiljanic

War Of The Worlds is a story that is famed. Since publication in 1898 from the pen of H.G. Wells, it has been interpreted in many ways. Few have stood the test of time like Jeff Wayne’s musical version from 1978.

The 2022 iteration of the tour rolled into Manchester with all the usual spectacles and added content that has helped the show evolve over the years.

One thing that is always interesting with War Of The Worlds is the cast. An ever revolving door has seen many different people perform the parts of the show. Justin Hayward has been a constant in his role portraying the sung thoughts of the journalist and Liam Neeson, with his superb vocal tone, is once again presented using 3D holography.

New additions to the cast include Duncan James (of Blue), Claire Richards (of Steps) and Kevin Clifton (of Strictly Come Dancing). All three give stellar performances in their respected roles. James and Richards both rose to combine superbly to deliver a thoroughly strong version of The Spirit Of Man in the second half of the show. It is one of many standout moments that is delivered superbly.

Another standout moment comes from Nathan James as The Voice Of Humanity. His swashbuckling demeanour dominates the stage when he strides forth, and his vocal delivery is emphatic. It is no surprise that he has been given this role for the second time.

Kevin Clifton gives vigour and energy to his role as The Artilleryman; especially during the Brave New World section of the show. He flits around the stage telling of his grand plan to rebuild after the invasion, and he takes it to the crowd with excursions over a lowered bridge to a smaller platform in the middle of the audience. Having the chance to get into the crowd like this helps shrink the vast cavern of the AO Arena to some extent; it brings people closer.

Musically, War Of The Worlds is spectacular. Horsell Common & The Heat Ray is still deeply unsettling and the use of sound within the AO Arena ensures that the crowd is aurally consumed by the menace of the Martians. Elsewhere, the ‘ULLA’s reverberate dramatically amongst the completely menacing sound effects that make up the lexicon of the alien beings. Justin Hayward delivers Forever Autumn with an omnipresent grace; the second half of the show opens up with a duet of the track with Anne-Marie Wayne, who plays the journalist’s fiancée.

The aforementioned duet is one of two musical pieces that have been added to the show over time; the other being Life Begins Again, that has gestated from musical interlude to full blown piece in the time that the show has been being performed and enhanced.

Whilst the esteemed players deliver their performances, phone cameras are out the most for the fighting machine that engulfs the stage to deploy its heat ray upon the people. Emitting fire and watching the crowd intently, it is a wonderful spectacle to witness; true theatre.

As the show reaches its closing strains, the prophetic side of the show is brought to the fore. Questions of ‘Who are the real Martians?’ are offered up. ‘The problem of course, is the humans,’ booms an extra terrestrial voice as the show closes. Video’s from ‘H.G. Wells’ talking of the disasters that the world faced also throws light on these questions and thoughts.

War Of The Worlds will always have an audience. It has been a touring production for close to two decades and goes from strength to strength. It is interesting to think how the show can grow further, but for now, this production is superb. The cast is strong, the music is timeless and the Martians are still as devastating.

Read our interview with Jeff Wayne, where he discusses the show and more, here.

Get a flavour of The War Of The Worlds below. It features a performance from Jason Donovan and Kerry Ellis from 2012.

The War Of The Worlds: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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