The Time Machine – A Comedy

Steve Canny and John Nicholson after H G Wells
Original Theatre
The Lowry, Salford

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The Time Machine – A Comedy Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Time Machine – A Comedy Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Time Machine – A Comedy Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Time Machine – A Comedy Credit: Manuel Harlan

The Time Machine by H G Wells was a set text in my school days, so I’m accustomed to smutty schoolboy humour about the protagonist being grabbed by ‘the Morlocks’. Fortunately, Steve Canny and John Nicholson’s The Time Machine – A Comedy offers better quality gags.

Michael Dylan, George Kemp and Amy Revelle play fictionalised versions of themselves—actors preparing for their latest production. In an unlikely turn of events, George discovers he is the descendent of H G Wells and proposes using authentic items and documents he has inherited in a new play dramatising The Time Machine.

Rehearsals do not, however, go smoothly as Michael and Amy demand to make input to the script adding cautionary warnings on time paradoxes and, er, Cher songs. George is stunned to discover what he considered to be a prop is a functional time machine just in time to try and rectify an accident which brings act one, and Michael’s life, to an end.

During the interval, George travels back and forth through time umpteen times, so by act two is resigned to the fact Michael’s death cannot be avoided and considers, therefore, it would be reasonable to continue staging his play. Amy disagrees and, although fascinated by time travel, enlists the audience in examining ways in which the laws of quantum physics and the space-time continuum can be cheated to avoid Michael’s fate.

Director Orla O’Loughlin does a remarkable job of tying together a plot which jumps all over the place. She creates the tired atmosphere of a rehearsal room with the characters sniping at each other in a snide, passive-aggressive manner. Impressively, the complexities of time paradoxes are debated in a manner which is informative and entertaining rather than just baffling.

At first glance, authors Steve Canny and John Nicholson seem to have just shoved in as many jokes as possible in the hope some hit the mark. Fake cockney phrases appear, dialogue is amusingly spoken out of sync and the cast are under the impression Salford residents refer to each other by the endearment ‘cock’.

Actually, the play is structured meticulously. The significance of a mobile phone ringing within the audience in act one becomes apparent in act two. The audience becomes aware, without being told, the cast have travelled back in time as act two opens in exactly the same way as act one, complete with technical errors and ad libs.

Although the priority is humour, the cast create distinct characters. George is essentially an in-joke on the egotism of writers / directors, constantly pushing to complete his play despite the peril hanging over his co-worker. Amy is the moral centre of the play; although stunned into insensitivity (positively gloating over the many ways she has witnessed Michael dying), she is able to overcome her baser instincts and start a rescue mission. Michael is very much the everyperson, facing the end of his life and realising, after the initial panic, he is not sure how to react.

There is a very high level of audience participation with patrons contributing sound effects, lending mobile phones, playing characters onstage or painting a portrait, all of which helps sustain the momentum of constant laughter.

There have been a number of shows recently (Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense) in which the joke centres around a small cast having the audacity to stage a classic text. Rather than be limited by this approach, The Time Machine – A Comedy examines the twists and turns of time travel while still managing to be exceptionally funny and completely engaging.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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