Review: War with the Newts at Summerhall

Equal parts sci-fi adventure, political satire and revenge story, with malfunctioning androids, rapid time shifts and a brief history of capitalism thrown in for good measure, it’s fair to say there’s a lot going on in War with the Newts.

You could probably get a Netflix box-set out of it. The problem is, it’s all crammed into an hour and a quarter, so both cast and audience are put through their paces trying to keep up.

The play opens with the discovery of a new species of newt that is intelligent enough to learn basic commands. It’s not long before the altruistic idea of working together as partners is thrown out the window and the creatures are enslaved. Needless to say, they turn out to be smarter than anyone suspected; they rebel, quickly gain the upper hand and take over. Decimated, the human population is reduced to the margins – we the audience represent a pocket of survivors.

The energetic three-strong cast, each playing multiple roles, work hard to keep the whole thing going, aided by an atmospheric soundtrack of screeches, feedback and distorted, disembodied voices courtesy of sonic artist Robert Bentall. The underlying message about the exploitation of the working class is well made, and there is much to raise a smile along the way – the British ambassador to the UN offers Scotland to the newts in exchange for England’s freedom (cheers for that) – and lots of gags about ‘new technology’ versus ‘newt technology’.   

The play is an adaptation of Karel Capek classic sci-fi novel, which was written as a response to the rise of fascism and the arms race. It was published in 1936, but its themes are just as relevant today.

War with the Newts, Summerhall, until 27 August (not 20), 5pm and 8.15pm

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