REVIEW: Original Theatre’s The Time Machine, York Theatre Royal, ends today ***

Be prepared to be amazed by time travel: Dave Hearn, left, and a shocked Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle in Original Theatre’s The Time Machine. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Original Theatre in The Time Machine, York Theatre Royal, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or

SORRY, there isn’t much time left. Either for CharlesHutchPress to write this review after a truly madly deeply busy week spent in the darkness of theatres and gig venues. Or for you to read it or see The Time Machine before it leaves town forever.

Oh, for a time machine to have made time e    x    p    a     n    d.  Anyway, no time to delay. This is “father of science fiction” H G Wells’s The Time Machine. Or rather it is and it isn’t.

It is based loosely – clinging by its finger nails, more like – on Wells’s 1895 debut full-length sci-fi novel, the one where the Time Traveller invents a device for travelling through time on a journey to the year 802,701.

Herbert George Wells, by the way, used his time well, so well that he wrote more than 50 novels and dozens of short stories, while his non-fiction output took in works of social commentary, politics, history, science, satire, biography and autobiography.

Ah, but he didn’t write The Time Machine, A Comedy, instead the madcap work of Steven Canny, once associate director of Complicite, and John Nicholson, artistic director of Peepolykus, fellow specialists in absurdist, absurdly funny comedies.

In a compressed nutshell, three actors run a theatre company that’s trying to put on a production of The Time Machine, but with fairly limited success. “Limited” in the sense that Hearn, Amy Revelle and Michael Dylan keep veering wildly  from Wells’s intention to travel to the end of the Earth’s life to reflect on our own.

A big event happens that causes the play to spiral out of control as Hearn’s character, also called Dave, discovers actual time travel. Spoiler alert.

Everything stops for tea but not for long for Amy Revelle and Dave Hearn in The Time Machine. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Like in Hearn’s exploits for Mischief Theatre for the past decade, comedy rules all in the desire to get to the end, no matter what mishaps, detours, distractions befall the performance, within the structure of a play within a play, where the actors’ own world permeates the text.

In this case, Hearn is playing Dave Wells, HG’s assertive, egotistical great-great grandson, who wants to tell HG’s sci-fi tale, and is in such a hurry to do so, he is wearing tracksuit trousers and trainers.

But then so too are Amy, the “sensible” one who just wants to sing Cher songs at every opportunity, and Irishman Michael, a lovable science geek who’s having something of a meltdown day. Science fiction meets science friction as they are always on the cusp of falling out.

A door (vital to all farces), a chaise longue, dapper Victorian costumes, a theatrical knife prop, sounds off stage and repetition, repetition, repetition, all add to the fun and games.

“This is a show that laughs in the face of despair and insists on shining light in gloomy times,” says director Orla O’Laughlin (who even has a ‘laugh’ in her surname).

It does do exactly that, while also finding room for audience participation (on and off stage), show tunes, a mischievous nod to Derren Brown, explorations of the fourth dimension, and the “science bit” as Hearn turns into a boffin lecturer. Heck, sometimes, even HG’s story strives to get back on track amid the madness and the mayhem, as all’s Wells that ends well.

This is ‘metatheatre’, to use a pretentious word, but it is often ‘megatheatre’ too, judging by the excited reaction of the matinee school party in the dress circle.

Time and space is running out. What are you waiting for? Why are you still reading this? There’s no time like the present to see The Time Machine. Now.

All’s Wells that ends well for Mischief maker Dave Hearn in The Time Machine travels

Having the time of his life: Dave Hearn, centre, in The Time Machine, with comedy compadres Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle. All pictures: Manuel Harlan

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.”

Doorway to time travel: Dave Hearn on tour in The Time Machine

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.”

Making his point: Dave Hearn shocks Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle in The Time Machine

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.

Everything stops for tea: Amy Revelle and Dave Hearn take a breather in The Time Machine

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.”

On his shoulder: Dave Hearn, behind Michael Dylan, every step of the way in this scene from The Time Machine

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 Warning: May contain show tunes.

Copyright of The Press, York

Dave Hearn in the role of Dave, H G Wells’s great-great-grandson in Original Theatre’s The Time Machine