A ragged Traveller (sole performer Robert Lloyd Parry, who adapted and directs) crashes into a suburban garden and tells of his adventures in the far future. No, the Beeb haven't decided on Matt Smith's successor as The Doctor. This is a new adaptation of The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.
The Traveller finds that, in the future, Earth has divided into tribes, which uncannily reflect present-day society. The Eloi enjoy a privileged life but, without the need to strive, have reached Cameronian levels of complacency. Their lifestyle is built on the unending labour of the Morlocks who have been so brutalised by the experience that they have descended into savagery and cannibalism.
Previous productions from Parry have tended to be based on a formula of gothic horror stories told with minimal props in an atmosphere that reflected the time when they were written. The Time Machine is more ambitious; moving beyond the comfort zone of familiarity to make greater use of the storytelling opportunities offered by theatre.
It's certainly dramatic, opening in a breathless rush with Parry dashing around the stage and at one point crashing full length. As he rattles out descriptions you hardly notice that the Traveller's motivation in constructing the time machine and his methods are never explained.
Gradually the pace settles to a more relaxed conversational level, which draws out humour from the piece. This is a surprising and welcome aspect of the show – Parry spends the production in his Long Johns and makes the occasional sly reference to The Time Lord as it is revealed that the Time Machine is smaller on the inside than it looks.
The Machine, designed by Factory Settings, adds quirky charm, and provides practical props for the show. The nicely eccentric design is not revealed until some way into the play; a fine example of Parry's ability to pace the production. It also serves as hills upon which the Traveller clambers, as well as sinister buildings. Ashley Summers' imaginative sound design uses ceaseless chiming clocks to suggest the process of time travel and creates real unease with the eerie noise of the Morlocks emerging.
The production has its flaws. Inevitably, bearing in mind the nature of the show, talking exceeds visual action and it occasionally becomes hard to maintain attention. Plus, H. G. Wells' political points are pretty clear from the story and really do not need to be spelt out verbally. Although the Traveller is a very human character he is not very humane and clearly can't stand the people he meets in the future. You can't help but wish some of the lengthy speeches had been used to give a greater insight into his motivation.
Overall, The Time Machine is an entertaining example of a company willing to take risks and expand its range of material. It doesn't quite achieve its ambitions but is close enough to demonstrate how Parry is capable of exploiting the dramatic possibilities offered by the theatre.
- Dave Cunningham