Beginning where it ends, Jonathan Barnes’ adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1901 novel draws out its anti-war message while playfully paying homage to the sci-fi b-movies of the post-war 1950s, creating a satisfying blend of the solemn and the silly that is an absolute joy to listen to.
Rather than being overly reverential, Barnes takes liberties with the text only where those alterations smooth the abridgement into audio, or help make the original’s message more clear. The linking story, entirely Barnes’ own creation, adds a narrative level that is essential in this version of the drama’s success, and there is a new sting in the tail that is amusingly knowing and yet still authentic feeling. This Big Finish edition is perhaps the most successful of all the various adaptations, respectful to the period in which Wells was writing but ameliorating the differences for modern listeners.
Mr. Bedford is a businessman who sees financial opportunities everywhere but lacks the necessary good judgement not to find himself fleeing to the countryside to try and escape his debts. There he meets the eccentric Professor Cavor, a man on the verge of making a scientific breakthrough that could change the course of mankind irrevocably… and – as Bedford perceives it – could make the two men as rich as Croesus. But once Cavor has successfully developed his gravity defying cavorite, his first order of business is an experimental expedition to the moon, a satellite that is, as the two men will discover, far from being as grey or as uninhabited as it looks from down here…
As the narrator, Gethin Anthony is a charismatic presence, managing to balance the reluctant traveller with the eager prospector and making what on the page might have been a wholly unlikeable part rather appealing. Opposite him is Chloe Pirrie as Maria, the young woman who discovers Bedford quite by chance in Italy, and whose delivery is just knowing enough to tip the listener off that she might not be all she seems; the resolution to this subplot is thoughtful enough to both surprise the listener and make sense of an otherwise somewhat disjointed final act. Their sequences together are engaging and seductive, and the isolating backdrop and sense of containment throughout is evocatively conveyed.
But the star of the piece is undoubtedly Nigel Planer, perhaps not the most obvious choice as Professor Cavor, but one who owns and inhabits the part so totally it’s impossible to imagine anybody else in the role. His performance choices as the child-like genius are exquisite. Planer’s enthusiasm in the project is palpable and reflected in the work of all involved. As a result, The First Men in the Moon is a deliriously enjoyable listen.
Special Features: interviews / music suite
THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: LISA BOWERMAN / WRITTEN BY: H.G. WELLS, ADAPTED BY JONATHAN BARNES / STARRING: NIGEL PLANER, GETHIN ANTHONY, CHLOE PIRRIE, ALAN COX, DAVID HOROVITCH / RELEASE DATE: AVAILABLE NOW FROM BIG FINISH, ON GENERAL SALE FROM 1ST MAY