The Crystal Egg may not be the most prominent piece of writing from H.G. Wells, but for many it holds a special place in their heart, given it’s often touted as the precursor to the more renowned ‘The War of the Worlds’. Mike Archer is clearly one of these people, having lovingly adapted the short story for an immersive piece of theatre, The Crystal Egg Live, directed by Elif Knight, now playing at The Vaults.
Well, it’s immersive to a point. The action begins on the streets of Seven Dials in London, at the time one of the poorest parts of London, and various shopfronts have been erected to recreate this squalid part of town. Characters mingle with the audience, performing street tricks and going about their daily business, and they really do throw themselves in to it; Luisa Guerreiro and Piers H Hunt in particular, draw the audience in. The first scene takes place here, before moving to a more conventional, albeit intimate theatre set up.
What is immediately apparent is the attention to detail that has gone in to the staging thanks to Jason Kelvin’s set design. The shops in Seven Dials are not just frontages, you can look in the windows and examine the wares, while posters and street signs help complete the look. Mr Cave’s shop, and adjoining living quarters are packed full of little curios, while a half-eaten loaf of bread sits atop a table laden with crockery.
Although the central premise remains the same, much of the plot has been adapted for this stage version, with various characters added or missing. H.G. Wells himself (Edwin Flay), makes a cameo, helping the narrator, Wace (Desmond Carney) tell the now expanded story.
This mix of the original story, and new material does cause a little incongruity, for example in this stage version, Mrs Cave (Jessica Boyde) is a far more kindly figure, and of the same age as her husband, meaning her desire to sell the egg to buy a dress, or the heated outbursts from Mr Cave (Mark Parsons), seem a little inexplicable. A few aspects may have appeared puzzling to an audience unfamiliar with the original tale, but the added material does help to minimise this confusion.
What should have been the most difficult part of the production; portraying what Cave could see within the egg, ended up being the most remarkable part of the show. No spoilers, but again, the staging came to the forefront as superb lighting and video projections from Simeon Miller allowed the audience a glimpse through the portal, to the alien landscape of Mars.
With a few minor exceptions, this adaptation gives added context to H.G. Wells’ original short story, and breathes a new lease of life in to the work, without turning it into a predicatble science fiction piece. Where it really delivers, is in the minutiae of detail incorporated in to the staging, giving it a very unique look and feel. Overall, The Crystal Egg Live is a wonderful example of what can be achieved in non-traditional theatre spaces.