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