Edinburgh festival theatre review: War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds
Edinburgh Lyceum *

Special report: the Edinburgh festival 2000

So Orson Welles was a showman who could never stop acting out the myth he had created, and whose career strangely resembled the plot of his own Citizen Kane. There is nothing new, then, that New York's SITI company can tell us in this awkward biopic.

Written by Naomi Iizuka, War of the Worlds is a whistle-stop review of Welles's career. Conceived and directed by Anne Bogart, the production also contemplates the parallels and differences between theatre and cinema, and between performance and life. But the show clumsily spoon-feeds us its insights. It starts out with the creakingly facile device of having Welles investigated post-mortem by a group of reporters who have just watched the newsreel of his life - just like Charlie Kane all over again.

Hammering the point home repeatedly, Stephen Webber's Welles announces, "I'm a kind of theatre unto myself - always playing a character." The tricks of staging are not so bravura as simplistic and irritating, and the bustling "hooray for Hollywood" routines would look hackneyed in a West End musical. Webber is jowly and basso-voiced enough for Welles, but there is none of the self-mocking farceur's gravitas, and he comes across more as a swaggering matinee idol.

As a self-conscious commentary on art and illusion, the production feels like a nasty case of theatre folk condescending towards that rather primitive medium, cinema, and finding it quite interesting after all.

Jonathan Romney

The GuardianTramp

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