War with the Newts, Bunker Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

In post-Brexit Britain, the oyster industry struggles. Work is hard and profits are low. But when oyster harvester Captain von Toch sees mysterious images on the ship’s sonar and discovers a new creature that can quickly be taught fine motor skills, he revitalises his business and changes the course of the human race’s destiny.

This adaptation of Karel Čapek’s 1936 novel War with the Newts is set in a dystopian near-future where an intelligent animal species is first exploited by mankind, then rebels against their masters. Slavery, fascism, environmentalism, imperialism and capitalism are all criticised in this multi-faceted story documenting the fall of humanity. There’s a good dose of moral ambiguity, and neither species is painted in a particularly positive light – there is no perfect creature, man or newt.

A trio of TV monitors broadcasts cartoon faces who initially explain that we are refugees, and the story we are going to see is acted out by a high-tech entertainment system. These digital characters periodically interrupt in an increasingly sinister fashion. Though it’s not clear where we are going but from the beginning, the outcome doesn’t look good as the narrative follows a fairly standard, nihilistic trajectory.

The three, multi-rolling performers (Everal A Walsh, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi and Sam Redway) are engaging and sharp, with few moments inspiring empathy – it’s a choice that works in a play so critical of humanity’s flaws. There are some immersive/interactive elements that prove to be gratuitous, but Hannah Sibai’s design largely consisting of large plastic storage crates and nautical elements effectively creates the hull of a fishing vessel.

There are some fairly obvious genre tropes at work, but the script is tight and provocative. The set and digital elements reinforce the story and setting well, and the unrestrained ideas send a dark message about humankind’s trajectory.

War with the Newts runs through27 October.

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