5 February 2024
The taking of a ‘classic’ novel and turning it inside out and upside down and mucking about with it is nothing new. Neither is adding in an element of satire, parody and off the wall, comedy, slapstick fun. Thus ‘The Time Machine’ as produced by Original Theatre from a script by Steven Canny and John Nicholson isn’t really breaking new ground. Nicholson, in particular, has been a long-time collaborator with the comedy outfit, La Nave Bete, whose performances have been reviewed by myself a number of times and who are almost part of the furniture at the Northcott Theatre. La Nave Bete along with the ‘Play That Goes Wrong’ team have propelled a certain kind of comedy to the fore – following in the footsteps of writers like Michael Green, who from the 1960s was famous for his books headed ‘The Art of Coarse Sport/Acting/Drinking/Golf etc., and who wrote plays such as ‘The Cherry Sisters’, ‘Pride At Southanger Park’ and ‘All’s Well That Ends As You Like It’: masterful pieces of idiocy.
This three hander ‘version’ of the HG Wells classic sci-fi novel, is not exactly what he would have been thinking of when he wrote it and the rather scant use of his work means it is there as a marketing ploy rather than anything to do with the original. The story within the story has three actors – one of whom is a distant relation of the novelist – performing a play within the play about the said machine. When confusion over a ‘knife’ prop leads to the ‘death’ of one of the performers, the time machine must come into its own to avert the fatality in the first place.
The conceit is fine. The ever-so-earnest trio implore the audience to join them on their escapade, but do so a little as if they are presenting a TV show to pre-school children and, for me anyway, I felt an immediate disconnection. Again there is nothing new in this style of performance, just as there isn’t when things go wrong etc etc. So, although the performers do become more likeable, the story gradually becomes irrelevant – you know what will happen in the end, you just don’t know how it will.
The involvement of the audience both on and off stage is fun but basically inconsequential and is a device to keep the viewers on the side of the actors rather than actually progressing the plot – but then, as mentioned before, this isn’t particularly important.
This all may sound very negative. It is. I am afraid I was only partially entertained by the show; I just felt I had seen it all before. Don’t get me wrong. The performers are all extremely good and leap in and out of character well and handle the audience with aplomb. The script was mildly amusing to me, but I am not sure I laughed out loud once. Throughout I had a feeling that the whole piece had been thrown together by a Sixth form or University drama group (and I certainly don’t wish to denigrate any work they might produce). I just didn’t feel it.
BUT, and it is a big BUT – I was very much in the minority – the show engaged many, of all ages, in the audience and laughter was loud and plentiful. As a reviewer, you can only say what you think and what you experience, but sometimes you need to acknowledge that not every show is for everyone. So, despite my own opinions, if you are looking for a slightly mad night at the theatre and want to have some undemanding entertainment put in front of you, then you could do worse than The Time Machine.
Cast & Creatives
Writers – Steven Canny & John Nicholson
Director – Orla O’Loughlin
Designer – Fred Meller
Lighting – Colin Grenfell
Sound – Greg Clarke
Image – Mark Douet
An Original Theatre Production