It’s hard to shake the sense that we’re heading towards the Apocalypse. At the time of writing (assuming that the passage of time hasn’t been altered by an intrepid traveller since Mummy posted this review) the UK is caught up in Coronavirus hysteria following weeks of flooding. A night of theatrical escapism sounds like the perfect antidote to these troubled times. Except when the show is an immersive production in which the global population has been drastically reduced as a result of a flu-like pandemic….
The Time Machine is an interactive adaptation of the dystopian H.G. Wells classic, which sees small groups escorted around Wells’ former haunt, The London Library, by their own time traveller guide. (Our excellent and entertainingly eccentric guide for the evening was Clare Humphrey.) The production has been designed especially for this amazing venue, and it’s well worth it just to explore the space itself, but the time travel is pretty exciting too!
After an introductory video warning of the perils of time travel (which largely appear to involve colour-changing socks) we were ushered through a time travel portal and upstairs to The Sackler Study, where The Time Traveller started to share her story with a little help from a computer. Soon we were on the move again, travelling through both space and time, to meet The Computer (Graeme Rose) himself, where more details of our mission were revealed. Far from just an a passive audience, it turns out we were there to act as witnesses for the Time Traveller (for what we weren’t quite sure yet) and to help her pinpoint the moment in time at which it might be possible to stop society crumbling. Our journey ultimately took us into the (not too distant) future to meet an employee at the Department for Research, Scepticism and Innovation (Sarah Edwardson), where we learned more about the scientific and technological advances that await the world, before moving on to the finale in the studio of The Chat Show Host (Funlola Olunfunwa). At each stage, we learned a little more about time travel and its impact on the fate of society.
Jonathan Holloway’s sharp script is filled with huge ethical questions, witty pop culture references and just the right amount of sci-fi mumbo jumbo. Scarily prophetic for a show written in October 2019, it touches on climate change, class, corporate greed, the anti-vaccination movement and genetic modification, all of which appear to have contributed to the frighteningly familiar flu pandemic. There are some very funny moments and a good balance between the narrative and interactive elements, although the latter involves a fair bit of touching stuff that other people have handled, which some people might find disconcerting right now. (Mummy found herself chalking the date onto the time machine which she was then required to hold onto for a while, before taking a call on the Time Traveller’s phone!)
Natasha Rickman’s direction makes excellent use of the space, particularly the Back Stacks (where the grated metal flooring allows you to look down into the floors below) and The Times Room (which houses over 200 years’ worth of original copies of The Times newspaper). Steeped in history, and filled with the unmistakable smell of old books, The London Library is the perfect venue for this tale of time travel, although sometimes it’s quite easy to get distracted by your surroundings and lose track of the intentionally confusing plot. Despite the multiple room changes, there is an impressive amount of lighting, sound and video content, which really heightens what is already an engaging multi-sensory experience. There are also other nice details in the set design, including a notice board full of fictional news stories (and a not so fictional newspaper clipping from the day before our visit).
It all makes for a highly entertaining evening which raises some interesting questions about societal choices and benefits from perfect timing that means it hits incredibly close to home. Creation Theatre certainly live up to their name with this innovative and engaging piece of work, which is well worth a visit while the time portal remains open.
RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles & Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things).
The Time Machine is playing at The London Library from 29 February to 5 April 2020. We received complimentary press tickets to the press performance on 11 April 2020.