The Big Finish set of HG Wells adaptations continues with The Shape of Things to Come, originally published in 1933 as almost an essay rather than a story, in which Wells speculated on how history would unfold over the space of almost 175 years. Structured as a set of essays covering chunks of time, it would seem at first glance to be an unlikely candidate for an audio adaptation as a drama. Enter Guy Adams.
Faced with the very dry prose of the bulk of the original, plus the fact nearly half the time described has already happened, Guy Adams found an inspired means of capturing the essence of the book by making it cover alternate history.
The story starts as Dr. Philip Raven (Sam Troughton) boards flight HG 1933 for New York. Jane (Nicola Walker) sits next to him and reveals she is from the future, come to give him a different take on history where even the smallest moment can lead to a different world. Raven is recognisably from our time line – but is that the best of all worlds? Can Jane persuade him otherwise? And if so what will he do about it?
Listening to The Shape of Things to Come is a bit like the rare moment you bring home a new album and love it forever; you play the music from the beginning and within a few bars you know this could be something special. You get to the end and you haven’t been let down. This is the same. Director Lisa Bowerman has pulled together the finest performance so far from Nicola Walker for Big Finish. Jane is convincing, empathic, and yet only directive when needed. She has come to show, not to tell, and her delivery moves from that of a mentor to someone with real passion, caring and even fear for her own world. This all works as Sam Troughton’s character moves from sceptical to confused to outraged to his own conclusion on history and humanity.
HG Wells’ vision of a global socialist inspired utopia with no religion is provocative even if the listener doesn’t agree with it. The drama unfolds and is not afraid to confront some difficult moments and asks a very important question about whether or not the end can justify the means. This is a drama that will live with the listener for many months. Recorded the day of Donald Trump’s election, it gives this 84-year book an extra poignancy and the whole cast deliver something remarkable.
This is an astonishing, thought provoking listen, and even in a year of exceptional quality it should be part of any collection, even if the rest of the series of adaptations aren’t.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME / AUTHOR: HG WELLS / ADAPTED BY: GUY ADAMS / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH PRODUCTIONS / STARRING: NICOLA WALKER, SAM TROUGHTON, EWAN BAILEY, SIMON GREENALL, EVE WEBSTER, DUNCAN WISBEY, STUART MILLIGAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW