Let me be candid from the start: if you are of a nervous disposition and currently panicking about the Coronavirus pandemic, this show is certainly going to raise you anxiety levels even further! The creators of the show (writter Jonathan Holloway and director Natasha Rickman) acknowledge that, and have an apologetic reminder at the end that the adaptation was written back in October 2019 and that no references to current events were intended. How could they guess that the glimpses of a future where most of the world’s population is wiped out by an outbreak of viruses would feel far too topical at the present time? It’s a shame that this show might not get quite the audience it deserves because of this unfortunate timing.
A shame, because the positive aspects of this immersive theatre experience far outweigh the negatives. It is an excellent opportunity to explore the fascinating (and labyrinthine) building that is The London Library, although be warned that stairs are involved, as well as some walking on metallic grid, so it might not be the most suitable event for those with mobility issues or with a lifelong devotion to stiletto heels.
Participants are batched and given different start times. As they step through the portal at 10 minute intervals, they are welcomed by a Time Traveller, a different one for each group, which is bound to create a unique experience for each group. The ‘stations’ along the way and the people you meet at each station are the same, but the interaction with the audience and the Time Traveller will always be subtly different. Our Time Traveller was Clare Humphrey and she was wacky, amusing but also displaying just the right amount of paranoia and anxiety.
Unlike in H.G. Well’s novella, this Time Traveller does not jump quite as far into the future and does not see the Earth stop rotating on its access and the world falling silent. Instead, she goes forward 150 years and discovers that the population of the Earth has been reduced to 500 million. The mission is to find out what went wrong and at what point in time, and to see if it’s possible to go back then to warn humans and allow them to embark upon a different alternative reality. The warning comes during a special edition of a chat show – so yes, as you can imagine, this is not the most faithful adaptation of The Time Machine. As is always the case with Creation Theatre productions, the original text is merely the starting point for a clever rewriting and reinterpretation that makes the story feel fresh and contemporary.
There are plenty of fun references aimed at audiences of all ages (although perhaps with a slight preference for Generation X and older). We hear about a physicist named Oliver Hardy, who might have become a comedian in an alternative universe, who had a physicist son called Thomas Hardy. The first instance of time travels occurs in the basement of Studio 54 to the beat of a Donna Summer song and while Bianca Jagger rides a white horse on the floor above. We have a (human) computer (‘don’t call me HAL!’) telling us about secret government research into time travel that were running at the same time as the Manhattan Project – with the aim of going back in time to kill Hitler as a child. Last but not least, we have a chat show host trying to make a programme warning the oblivious audiences in 2020 about what is going to happen in the future and that this really is their last chance to do something about it.
All of these references obviously did not exist in the HG Wells’ original, but the social and political critique (he was a vocal socialist) are certainly present in this new adaptation. The production keeps the two future human species Wells mentions in his book: the small, child-like and ineffectual Eloi who live apparently carefree lives above-ground and the underground-dwelling, brutal Morlocks (who are actually breeding the Eloi for food). However, they are far less prominent in this show. Nevertheless, there are elements of class wars edging to the fore, such as the sly swipes at the super-rich escaping to their bunkers in New Zealand to survive the worst of the imminent catastrophe. The Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities also partnered with this production and it’s certainly visible in the way medical dilemmas are presented and debated (let’s not forget that Well was originally a biologist, so very much interested in Darwinian theory and the moral dilemmas of ‘survival of the fittest’).
An ambitious production, which manages to bring together in just ninety irresistible minutes things as disparate as sightseeing, entertainment, political provocation and a call to action regarding climate change and medical ethics. Plus, you will leave singing ‘I feel love, I feel love, I feel love’. What more could you want?
The show is running at The London Library from 29 February until 5th April.