Interactivity, Amusement and Cher: ‘The Time Machine’ Review

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Image Credit: Manuel Harlan

★★★★★

It might seem like a bold statement to call Original Theatre’s tour of The Time Machine one of the most fun productions of the year when we are only in March, but it’s a statement that holds true. The play is directed by Orla O’Loughlin and written by Steven Canny and John Nicholson. Performed by Dave Hearn (of Mischief Theatre), Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle, it follows three friends—called Dave, Michael and Amy—who have gone from rehearsing The Importance of Being Earnest to adapting H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine after Dave commandeers the production.

Things are already exquisitely entertaining as we watch the group bicker over writing choices and act out scenes from Wells’ novel, but things spin even more hilariously out of control when Dave realises it is possible that their prop—a chair owned by Wells himself, Dave’s grandfather—could be a time machine. Soon enough, he is on a head-spinning journey to save the life of one of his castmates—while Amy lobbies for the show to have more songs.

Praise must be given to Sound Designer Greg Clarke—it is presumably him who is responsible for the choice of music both before the show starts and during the interval, which includes ‘The Final Countdown’ and Coldplay’s ‘Clocks.’ The making of such a musical pun even when nobody is onstage shows a real attention to detail. In addition, the selection of Cher songs shown throughout the play are nothing short of joyful, with a time-travel montage to ‘If I Could Turn Back Time.’ Amy Revelle could very much perform some kind of full-length Cher tribute act, should she choose to.

The show is very reminiscent of an episode of The Play That Goes Wrong, with the sounds of falling props backstage, lights that go off at just the wrong time and a number of amusing set mishaps (fitting, as both Dave Hearn and writer Steven Canny have worked on …Goes Wrong pieces.) It is ordered chaos, even when it seems as though things have gone completely off the rails. Overall, it is thoroughly, ridiculously amusing. There are plenty of plays in which jokes are made and silences are left, in neat little gaps, for the audience to laugh because they feel like they’re supposed to – not so, here. The trio of actors never take themselves too seriously, giving a sense that they aren’t worried about if you laugh. Perhaps they already know you’re going to.

This steady belief in their own power is what propels the show forwards so enjoyably. The second half of the show has a multitude of interactive elements, some of which are so out-of-the-blue it isn’t worth spoiling them all here. These show, though, the trust that the show’s crew and writers have in their audience. In a play that doesn’t work without interactivity, some might simply choose to plant audience members to volunteer, but instead The Time Machine chooses to put its faith in people. For an audience member to agree to lend their phone to a character or come up onstage, they have to really be invested in the characters, to be eager to suspend their disbelief and partake in order to help them. This could so easily go wrong—there’s always the worry of a less lively audience, one unwilling to do anything more than observe. One gets the sense, though, that the acting trio are prepared for anything. Reactions and lines are tailored to specific audience interactions—on the Derby leg of the tour, hearing Hearn try to say ‘ey up mi duck’ is a particular joy—so that nothing feels forced or stilted.

With clever costumes and howl-worthy jokes, the play makes a particularly memorable evening.

The Time Machine will be touring in Derby, York, Eastbourne, Malvern, Bolton and Bath across March and April.

Words by Casey Langton


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