IN amongst his more than 50 novels and dozens of short stories, HG Wells wrote several science fiction works, many at the end of the 19th century, which, with uncanny accuracy, predicted aircraft, tanks, space travel, nuclear weapons, satellite television, a form of the world wide web and biological engineering.
The Time Machine was Wells’ first published novel in 1895, and while its view of time travel, via a machine, opened up a whole new vista for other writers to explore, it was not intended to be a basis for comedy. A tongue-in-cheek Hollywood version did have quite a deal of comedy in it, but nothing as full on as Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s script that forms the basis of this stage version.
As you might expect with Dave Hearn (a founder member of The Play that Goes Wrong-famed Mischief Theatre) involved, this play has one main aim in life – to entertain the audience. There are elements of Wells’ classic science fiction story, indeed it forms a backcloth for the invented comedy created by Dave Hearn and his two comedy partners Amy Revelle and Michael Dylan.
In the guise of HG Wells great-great-grandson, Dave finds his ancestor’s Time Machine and determinedly sets out to show Amy and Michael that it truly works. They are more intent on continuing with their rehearsal of The Importance of Being Earnest, and it is only after some fine effects created by sound and lighting designers Gregory Clarke and Colin Grenfell, that they are convinced that there is more to Dave’s story that just theatrical trickery.
Very soon they find themselves transported back and forth in time, ageing at one time 40 years, meeting en-route, among others, Megan and Harry, plus characters from EastEnders. It is all done in good fun, giving the trio many chances, which they greedily gobble up, to show their ability to be as adept at presenting verbal as they are physical comedy, working like a well-oiled machine.
Just as the interval is looming into view things take a more dramatic turn as, after several re-runs of the scene, Amy’s futurist character stabs Michael to death. At this stage Dave suggests the audience takes a break, giving them 20 minutes to work out what will happen next. Not every joke hit the mark during that first Act, partially because not all of the audience had a ready knowledge of Wells’ work, or the modern references. Enough however hit home to ensure that the customers went for their interval drink with a smile on their faces.
Act 2 saw the audience involved in the grand style. One joined Michael on stage for a glass of wine and a piece of pizza, another was inveigled into drawing a picture, another loaned her mobile phone which was rather abused by the cast, hopefully with no lasting effect, while others contributed money towards saving the mortally wounded Michael.
During the mayhem that followed, Michael played the victim with some lovely touches of childlike innocence, while the bullying Dave suddenly found his leadership usurped by a masterly display of histrionics and ferocious girl-power from Amy. It ended with the three of them taking a leaf out of Buster Keaton’s book (Steamboat Bill jr), standing rigidly to attention while the picture frame wall behind them collapsed over the top of them.
Fortunately they escaped the disaster without any harm so that they can continue to entertain audience with their rather irreverent interpretation of the father of science fiction, HG Wells, and his Time Machine, which ends its tour in Bath.