Brave New World

Aldous Huxley’s terrifying picture of a soulless future is not a million miles away from life in 2015,Antonia Charlesworth writes

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When Aldous Huxley witnessed the evolution of mass production in Ford’s car assembly line process he had a frightening vision of the future. His 1932 novel Brave New World depicted a dystopian world where industry, efficiency and consumerism ruled. In 1959, when he revisited it, Huxley wrote: “The prophecies are coming true much sooner than I thought they would.”

“In Brave New World you’re designed with your place in the economic model decided and you’re created to actually like that,” says writer Dawn King, who’s adapted the book for the stage.

In Huxley’s vision humans are created in castes on a production line. At the bottom of the pile, Epsilons are designed for menial labour by being deprived of oxygen. “These people are never going to rise up and their role in life is to do their job, make things, earn money, buy things. But everybody is happy with it.

“In 2015 we aren’t quite living in Brave New World because we have an awareness that we’re being manipulated and we’re not happy about it.”

The dramatic argument for a brave new world, King believes, is a persuasive one, “Maybe it would be better if people were just happy in their places and didn’t want anything they couldn’t have.”

It’s a chilling work and one that has never been successfully adapted for stage before now. Bafta-nominated King teamed up with director James Dacre for the adaptation, which premiered in September before touring. An accomplished cast, including William Postlethwaite and Sophie Ward, is supported by a set and costume design not entirely unrecognisable in 2015 and original new music from These New Puritans.

Ward’s role is not immediately familiar to readers of the novel. She plays Margaret Mond, the regional world controller of Western Europe, who was originally Mustapha Mond.

“I thought about how citizens are really defined by their role as consumers, and then I just distracted myself buying stuff on the internet.”

“The book is very much of its time and the women are very underwritten. I wanted to reflect our world in which women are leaders and not just sex objects, as they are in Huxley’s book,” explains King. “Huxley uses the names of political and industrial figures of the time and scatters them about the book, so we have Bernard Marx, Lenina and others, and I wanted to do something similar. It seemed quite a good change.”

Despite King’s feeling that the book is male-centred, reproductive rights are a central theme – women are forced into using contraception or sterilisation and ovaries are forcibly removed for external reproduction.

Many of Huxley’s other predictions are frighteningly accurate in 2015 – class division, the use of technology to control society and the recreational use of sex and drugs as a distraction from state control. In some ways the reality is even more extreme.

“Huxley wrote that everyone had zips on their clothes, which was titillating because it suggested easy access. Now people don’t think anything of that. People don’t think anything of pictures of half naked or even naked people on the TV,” points out King.
Equally, she says, there are parts of the book deemed irrelevant in 2015 – much of his scientific explanation, for example, as well as the appropriation of Ford as a deity.
“I thought it was more likely we’d be worshipping Apple but that felt like too much of an intervention and I feel we have a more secular society now.”

Otherwise, King was shocked at how much she felt the book was about her life.
“What really surprised me was this depiction of a very cosmopolitan, urban, society with citizens who are really defined by their role as consumers. I thought about that for a while. And then I just distracted myself buying stuff on the internet.”

Brave New World is at Blackpool Grand Theatre, 24-28 Nov, and Bradford Alhambra Theatre, 1-5 Dec

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