The Time Machine
The Scientific Romance Theatre Company
Scottish Storytelling Centre
This new adaptation of the H G Wells classic tale from the early days of science fiction comes from half of hit show The Man Who Planted Trees, Rick Conte, and his new Scientific Romance Theatre Company (you can hear him talk about it in the BTG podcast).
On a beautifully designed set of a Victorian drawing room behind scalloped footlights (set design Rebecca Hamilton), our hero (Matt Rudkin, who also created the wonderful puppets) tells his dark tale to his housekeeper (Deborah Arnott) and his disbelieving friend and newspaper editor (Conte).
He claims to have invented a machine that sent him a million years into the future where descendants of the humans, the Eloi, live a seemingly idyllic life where they seem to do very little for themselves but have the innocence and intelligence of children. However, natural selection has played a cruel—possibly Marxist—trick by splitting the human race into two species and turned the tables on the idle rich.
Director Any Cannon has used a mixture of staging methods to put across this story. Sometimes we see the time traveller played by Rudkin in human form, and sometimes he is a miniature puppet or even a shadow puppet. His friend from the future, Wiener, is sometimes a life-sized puppet and sometimes a small one, both voiced by Conte. The (very funny) head Morlock is Arnott in a mask with a Glaswegian accent, to contrast with the soft Edinburgh of the housekeeper.
This all works very well and the puppetry is wonderfully detailed with its subtle movements and gestures. However it is on its way to a four-star show but not quite there yet. There is a lot of corny humour, some of which lands better than others with the timing not quite there for some of the gags. There are times when it feels like it should be punchier and slicker, that the plotting should be clearer and that Rudkin's lead character should draw the audience into the story more.
But it looks great, the mix of performance styles and techniques works well and it can certainly hold the attention of a mixed-age audience for almost an hour.