The Time Machine – A Comedy
Steven Canny and John Nicholson, (very) loosely adapted from the Novel by H G Wells
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
There is a long tradition of comedy spoofs on popular classics that goes back to Abbott and Costello and probably much further.
One of the best exponents was Patrick Barlow, who, after National Theatre of Brent days, hilariously adapted The 39 Steps into a long-running absurdist comedy with a cast of four.
Steven Canny and John Nicholson, styling themselves as Peepolykus, did something similar with The Hound of the Baskervilles a couple of decades ago and that show is still bound to be going strong somewhere or other. Their latest venture is a take on H G Wells’s classic sci-fi novel The Time Machine.
The 110-minute-long production has been expertly filmed by the excellent Original Theatre, one of the leading exponents of online stage reproduction, in front of a live audience at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich.
What starts out as a faithful, minimalist attempt to transport the novel into a theatre soon gets subverted by an energetic cast of three under the direction of Orla O’Loughlin, late Artistic Director of Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.
The plot swiftly becomes irrelevant as Dave Hearn, whose career high points to date have come from working with the Goes Wrong team on stage and screen, now manically playing the novelist’s great-great-grandson Dave Wells, tries out the old man’s newly rediscovered Time Machine with unforeseen consequences.
What follows is a great deal of slapstick, compounded by visual and verbal gags and so much audience participation that, at one point, members of the paying public on stage threaten to outnumber the professionals.
The action travels back-and-forth in time from 1895 to the unimaginably distant future, awaiting a dénouement prefigured long before the final moments, in which Irish actor Michael Dylan is to meet a premature end at the hands of the other member of the triumvirate, Amy Revelle.
Along the way, the story of time travel is adorned and intercepted by characters from EastEnders and Sesame Street, not to mention the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Cher, adding to the fun if hardly clarifying the storyline.
As is so often the case with wacky humour of this type, the show can be rather hit and miss. At its best, it is laugh out loud funny, but there are also longueurs, where the jokes are either overly predictable or miss their target by quite some way.
Overall, as long as one is not expecting a faithful rendition of a much-loved classic, there is a great deal of farcical fun to be had by all thanks to the choicest moments in the script, highlighted by the expert work of Orla O’Loughlin and all three cast members.
The Time Machine is available to view at Original Theatre. The monthly subscription charge is £8.99, but this offers access to over a dozen recordings with more to come.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher