The Time Machine—A Comedy

Written by Steven Canny & John Nicholson (very) loosely adapted from the novel by H G Wells
Original Theatre
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

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The Time Machine

For fans of farce, slapstick and the suggestion of improvisation The Time Machine—A Comedy will offer frequent laughs and a few surprises.

Initially following the construct of a play within a play, the audience meet George (George Kemp), Michael (Michael Dylan) and Amy (Amy Revelle) as they explain that they’ve ditched their production of The Importance of Being Earnest to instead perform an adaptation of The Time Machine by H G Wells, who just happens to be George’s great, great grandfather. Not only that, it looks like George has been able to prove that the novelist did actually travel through time, setting up an evening of time travel chaos.

This is a script that covers a lot of ground with some parts more successful than others, the time travel paradox explanations a highlight, for example, bringing in EastEnders, The Muppets and Harry and Meghan to illustrate the points. Similarly, the metatheatrical references scattered throughout went down very well with the Guildford audience who laughed freely but did not join in with audience participation particularly willingly.

Audience participation? Yes indeed. While act one may concentrate on (loosely) actually telling the story of The Time Machine, act two is a separate animal entirely. Following a significant event at the end of the first half, things take a turn for the confusing and desperate with George the only cast member really wanting to perform the play as originally planned. The costumed melodrama of act one gives way to a ‘real’ drama that takes the cast on an emotional rollercoaster incorporating pizza, fundraising and even a dance routine.

Unevenly paced and with a thin premise, this show is enjoyable due to the charisma and ease of the cast who are better than the material they are given. From switching characters and accents to stepping in and out of their stage personas to bicker and bargain, all three deliver wholeheartedly. A particular credit to their skill and Orla O’Loughlin’s direction is the suggestion of spontaneity and improvisation, the split from the obviously performative to the more realistic, which is reflected through not only the physicality of the cast but also their changing dynamics and proximity.

On the surface, this is a play too silly to be thoughtful and yet it almost deals with some pretty big themes. Unfortunately, however the ever-increasing levels of zaniness remove the opportunity for deep reflection bar a moment of beautiful pathos courtesy of Shakespeare via Withnail and I. Borrowing heavily from other sources and with many of the gags entirely predictable, the production has a sort of shambolic charm that is reliant on the excellent delivery of the experienced cast. There are lots of ideas here, but staging them in such a deliberately jumbled way reduces their impact hugely, creating a fun but ultimately frustrating production.

Reviewer: Amy Yorston

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