DAVE Hearn, co-founder of those clever clowns in calamitous theatre Mischief Theatre, is spending time away from his comedic cohorts to go travelling through the country in The Time Machine.
From March 14 to 18, his time travels will bring him to York Theatre Royal in Peepolykus duo John Nicholson and Steven Canny’s re-visit of H G Wells’s epic sci-fi story for Original Theatre.
“It’s a play about three actors who run a theatre company and are trying to put on a production of The Time Machine, with fairly limited success,” says Hearn of this “comic version like no other you’ve seen” as Wells’s storyline travels to the end of the earth’s life to reflect on our own.
“But then a big event happens that causes the play to spiral out of control and my character [Dave] discovers actual time travel.”
Billed as an “out of this world, fast paced, wise-cracking comedy where science fiction and science fact collide and extraordinary, mind-boggling things can happen”, how does Orla O’Laughlin’s production contrast with such Mischief-making capers as The Play That Goes Wrong, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery and Magic Goes Wrong.
“In some ways it’s similar, though I’d say it’s less reliant on big set pieces and more focused on the relationships between the characters. And I think it’s possibly more intellectually challenging, in the nicest way! The writers have done a brilliant job.”
Hearn is not an H G Wells aficionado, but he is a science fiction fan in general. “I read the entire Dune trilogy, which took me the best part of my life, but it’s mind-blowing stuff,” he says. “I think the play does a great job of making Wells’s story accessible, even to those without knowledge of the source material.”
Hearn is playing Dave, H G Wells’s great-great-grandson, in Nicholson and Canny’s version. “He’s very excited to be presenting a production of The Time Machine. He’s quite assured of his own writing gifts, and really wants to prove himself in this regard, even when it’s not completely appropriate. I quite respect him for that in many ways.”
Should you be wondering, Dave was not named after him. “I originally auditioned for one of the other parts. I remember reading it and thinking I did an OK job, but felt intuitively that I’d be a better Dave,” Hearn says. “Eventually they asked me to read for Dave, and then everything made a lot more sense.”
Hearn began performing in his schooldays. “I did GCSE drama because – believe it or not – I was a very shy young man, and decided doing drama might help boost my confidence. I got an A* and then, after a spell doing odd jobs, decided to go to Harlow College and do a BTEC in performing arts,” he recalls.
“I always really enjoyed it, though I think I was quite arrogant as well. I genuinely thought I was a great actor, and I remember talking to my mum about going to drama school like it was completely my choice.”
To enable him to do the drama foundation course at LAMDA, his parents sold their house and car. “I don’t think I realised at the time just what a show of faith that was. They were so supportive,” he says.
LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) was to be the meeting place for the Mischief makers, Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer, and regular performer Hearn, who hit the jackpot with The Play That Goes Wrong.
“That was around five or six years after we formed Mischief [in 2008]. We didn’t pay ourselves during that period, we just kept making sure we had enough to do Edinburgh every year. Then around 2012 we decided we would write a Christmas show, The Murder Before Christmas at the Old Red Lion,” he says.
“We performed it at 9.30pm each night and had to store the set on the roof under a tarpaulin, because there was no space. It was woefully unsafe, but we kept going and after we finished the run the artistic director asked us to come back a few weeks later because another show had cancelled. That show became The Play That Goes Wrong.”
Hearn went on to enjoy a decade of success with Mischief and foresees a return to the fold, but he was ready to spread his wings. “It felt like a big decision for me not to go to Broadway with Peter Pan Goes Wrong. There were some personal reasons for that, but I’d wanted for a while to step away from Mischief,” he reveals.
“I could feel the beginnings of resentment creeping in, because I felt like I had to be loyal to the company. Nobody put that on me, that was all from me, but it felt right to step away. I’m enjoying being in a room with other people again. With Mischief the work is always very collaborative, but it’s actually quite nice just being told where to stand.”
One last question: if Hearn had a real time machine, where would he travel? “I’d love to go to the future, and see what cool gadgets they have,” he says. “Maybe I could go to the year 3,000, and see if Busted were right.”
Original Theatre’s The Time Machine travels to York Theatre Royal from March 14 to 18, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Warning: May contain show tunes.
Copyright of The Press, York