War With the Newts

Karl Capek’s (who coined the term “robot” in his play R.U.R.) satirical parable about the discovery of humanoid reptiles on earth and how they are at first exploited, then become a threat to human life, was turned into a 90 minute BBC Radio play in 2005.

Unfortunately, the source story may have proven problematic to adapt to a conventional drama as it’s more a broad canvassed tale, with no main character to follow, so the radio play turns it into a story-within-a story, as we keep cutting between the story…and Capek and his wife discussing the story, presumably partly to give us consistent “main” characters. It’s an unsatisfying solution (though the actors are fine) the scenes with Capek and his wife self-conscious and too obviously just stuck in to pad the running time or to bridge the narrative.

As well, though no doubt seminal, the overall story/theme is pretty standard by now, and since it is just the theme and metaphor (as opposed to being a character drama or adventure plot utilizing a familiar theme and metaphor) it can all seem a bit obvious and straightforward — the outline for a story, rather than a story. And, by mixing his metaphors and allegories, Capek kind of ends up with mixed messages. The first part seems to be a satire/criticism of imperialism and racism, as the Newts are exploited…but then it becomes a metaphor for the rise of Nazism (the story first written in the 1930s) as humans turn a blind eye to the growing threat of the increasingly militaristic Newts. But as such, the two metaphors (Newts as victims, Newts as villains) kind of work against each other.

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