Touring – reviewed at New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
H.G. Wells is the inspiration, with a larkily extrovert Dave Hearn from Mischief Theatre pretending to be his great-grandson, heir, and owner of the tech-spec for what he ‘reveals’ as the real Time-travel device. But don’t expect more than half a dozen lines about Wells’ Victorian-socialist foreboding about the future of the human race, divided a hundred years on into drippy gentle Eloi, beneath whom the angry Morlocks do all the work and prey on them. The script by Steven Canny and John Nicholson takes the 19 century novella as a springboard for a three-person meta-theatrical romp in show-goes-wrong style, the fourth wall abolished and the audience primed for involvement.
It uses favourite Mischief-style jokes like out-of-sync lines (nicely appropriate to time travel) and arguments between the cast (completed by Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle), some of them pleasingly feminist as Revelle, makes suggestions immediately credited to the men.
The structure is that the three were originally doing The Importance of Being Earnest for a low-grade live tour, but got enthused by the idea of doing this instead, so they inevitably mess it up. There are some cracking ideas, and real wit in the hurried early attempt to illustrate the three famous impossibilities of time travel: the Grandfather, Killing Hitler and Unchangeable Timeline theories. They do this in sketches involving among Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and an attempt by Meghan Sussex to assassinate Queen Victoria for begetting a dysfunctional royal family. Later they attempt to redeem their worst mistake by borrowing a phone and demanding a time capsule be buried by a university so future science can fix it in 100,000 years’ time: the “Anyone here involved with a university?” saw some very cautious hands go up.
Sometimes the knowing larkiness palls a bit if you’re old and jaded, but the show doesn’t flag, and it’s a handsome enough production: neat for touring with a smart giant clock in green marbling, a roaming door and a collection of labels. The ingenuity will amuse and surprise adults unfamiliar with this cheerful genre. Most importantly (I caught the last matinee in Ipswich, after a week in which word-of-mouth filled the New Wolsey Theatre more every night) I can tell you that it absolutely thrills children and young teenagers, and may even get some arguing about the philosophy of time travel.
Orla O’Loughlin’s production for Original Theatre saw laughs large and real. Hearn is particularly good at random wind-ups of the willing audience volunteers near the end (“How comfortable are you with improvised combat?” he asked one stately grey-haired figure). And I am pleased to seen the trio’s final return to Oscar Wilde with a remarkably well-rehearsed Importance of Being Earnest HipHop Dance Mix. Handbag! Hand-bag!
Let critics sniff, and some will. Audiences will leave feeling cheerful. It is what it is: and that is a lot of fun.
tour dates:, to 29 April
Derby now, then York, Eastbourne, Malvern, Bolton, Bath