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Review: The Time Machine

Review: The Time Machine

Review: The Time Machine cover photo on Stagedoor
Inside every closed book there are parallel universes just waiting to be discovered.

It’s an idea that is played to in Creation Theatre’s The Time Machine which offers a promenade theatrical journey through the stacks of The London Library.

HG Wells was a member of the Library and it is his novel, published a 125 years ago, with its story of a scientist who builds a vehicle enabling time travel who goes into the future, that is the inspiration rather than the template for Jonathan Holloway’s script.

In small groups at a time, the audience is lead by one of three time travellers (the impish Paul PK Taylor for my group) through various rooms in the library in what becomes a meditation in which HG Wells’ story of a future world where the affluent Eloi are served by the worker Morlocks serves as a springboard to consider our own world and futures.

Time Traveller Paul Taylor. Photos by Richard Budd.

The endless rows of books, of course, do not just contain fictions but also over a century of accumulated knowledge and expertise. As we wander the rooms, run our fingers down the spines the point is not lost on us that in the age of fake news and where disinformation spreads like a virus this knowledge is often behind paywalls. There is a tension that both works for and against the piece in the fact that we are experiencing the show in spaces that drip privilege and the establishment, where the Study Room was made possible by a donation from one of the Sackler family trusts; where another was opened by the Queen.

There is lots to interest here. The playfulness can be engaging as the show frolics around ideas about what time travel might do from changing the colour of your socks or having Virginia Woolf—whose Orlando is of course one of the great novels about time travel—become quite literally the mother of invention. The show is always hugely literate and has a questing intelligence, but it is also immensely dense, wordy and way over-long too. By the end I felt I had been talked at a lot, almost as if I’d been to a lecture rather than a theatre show. Natasha Rickman’s production is too laid back in allowing the Library itself to supply the theatrics and is hampered by technology and the logistics of herding groups around the labyrinthine rooms.

Time Traveller Leda Douglas.

But what the show does do very neatly is make you think about our own perilous future. We can’t go back in time and uninvent the Spinning Jenny so preventing the industrial revolution from taking place so preventing the climate emergency that is engulfing us. But we can do things now, at this very minute. This glimpse into the future—where pandemics rage and fires rage and the super-rich are all holed up in New Zealand with private armies controlling the border—provides a theatrical shock that points to the fact that there is still time to change the future but it’s fast running out.

The Time Machine runs at The London Library until Sun 5 April.

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Written by

Lyn Gardner

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