A best-selling novel, a hit film, and now a stage musical. Adapting something so iconic is no easy feat – as the creatives behind the recent television adaptation found – but this production comes from the same producers as the musical adaptations of Ghost and Back to the Future – so expectations were high.
The musical revolves around Henry and Clare: a man with a gene that allows him to time travel (involuntarily) and his patient but struggling wife. Ostensibly, it’s sci-fi, but at its core, it’s romance. There are relatable themes, and the sci-fi aspects are often metaphoric and figurative.
Clare, the title character, is played by the wonderful Joanna Woodward, who was in the original West End cast of Pretty Woman. Her vocals are mesmerising.
Henry is played by well-known (and just as wonderful) West End actor David Hunter, who starred in the original cast of One Man, Two Guvnors and the original West End casts of Seussical and Waitress. Onscreen, he is known for Nativity 3 and Superstar.
I caught the show with one of my former TV colleagues, Leah, who had previously seen Hunter in Waitress in the West End – before catching the show with me in Manchester. Before the show, Leah told me that it was the one year anniversary of our Snapchat friendship – and this glorious musical was the perfect way to celebrate that!
The musical begins with preparations for Henry and Clare’s wedding. It’s a sweet but soppy opening. I’m no fan of romance, and I found it a little cheesy – but then Henry suddenly vanished. The warm opening was ripped apart – and I was gripped! The sentimental nature of the opening number was intentional and brilliant; it perfectly captured the unpredictability and difficulty of Henry’s unwanted ability.
The music, by Joss Stone and Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, is a little same-y at first. I had expected more from such successful artists, but the songs were a little mellow and blasé. But they were just setting the scene. From the second half of the first act onwards, the songs solidify – beginning with the scene in which Henry meet’s Clare’s friends, Charisse and Gomez, in which Gomez questions Henry’s intentions in a roaring rock song.
Charisse and Gomez, a married couple, are played by Hiba Elchikhe and Tim Mahendran, respectively. At times, Elchikhe and Mahendran steal the show, with their comic relief, Elchikhe’s gentle sass, and Gomez’ thorough likability.
Elchikhe is best-known for taking over the role of Priti in the West End cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, before starring in the original LA cast. She also starred in the original cast of Broken Wings. Mahendran, meanwhile, starred in the original cast of & Juliet – and, sadly, he’s the only main cast member I did not get to interview at the press event.
Another great song takes place during the emotional reunion between Henry and his father (Ross Dawes) – and the second act is filled with splendid songs that are testament to Stones and Stewart’s terrific talent (and perfect partnership).
The first act does a lot of jumping around. Each scene seems to be a different time period. This is not just because Henry is time travelling, but the creatives have chosen to show us things out of sync – for good reason. For all the time jumps, I never once found myself confused; it was easy to follow, and scenes were showed in an order that allowed us to make sense of things.
The first act ends with Henry and Clare’s wedding – following on from the opening scene, where the couple are planning their wedding. The musical finally catches up with the present (its own present, that is, which is in the 90s). It’s a fun, heart-warming scene. We have now had time to get to know (and love) the characters so the marriage is much more touching than it was in the first scene. However, a first act cannot close without a sense of jeopardy. The audience get a brief glimpse of another time period, before the musical returns to the happiness and joy of the wedding, the characters completely unaware of the danger and heartbreak that is to follow.
Without giving too much away, the glimpse we get of the future involves Henry. Hunter appears stage right, the wedding party to his left. The transitions (and disappearing) in this musical are so seamless that it was only after the act ended that I realised how crazy it was that Hunter managed to get from the stage left to the stage right and then back to the stage left so quickly. When the future Henry appeared onstage, I looked to the stage left to see if the younger Henry and Clare were still there, and they were. It only dawned upon me after the act ended that Hunter could not have been there, for he cannot be in two places at once! I’ve no idea how they did it, or any of the other wild (dis)appearances; it’s some serious technical skill.
The opening number of the second act was a bit of a shift, musically and technologically. There was a transparent screen at the front of the stage, and moving images were projected on to it. The scene gives us an insight into what it is like being Henry – time-travelling at any given moment, his body being ripped apart and put back together in an entirely different time period. The song is a bit of an outlier – à la the title song of The Phantom of the Opera being a rock song in an opera-esque musical – but it works because it is separate to the wider story; it’s sort of a prologue to the second act. The projections are spectacular, and Hunter’s ability to always be in the right place at the right time deserves applause (and he received a huge one after this scene).
I had sadly read a spoiler about the story so I sort-of knew what was to come but so did the rest of the audience because the production twice foreshadows one of the main character’s fate – first in the first act and then again in the second (which will make you jump out of your seat). The PR and Marketing Manager, Nancy, had told me that she caught the first preview of the musical, and it left her in tears – which she quickly had to dry ahead of doing vox pops! It doesn’t take much to make me cry so I had tissues at the ready.
Sure enough, there is a tragic ending, but then there is a flash-forward that semi-fixes the trauma of the previous scene. Both The Book Thief (which had its world premiere at Bolton Octagon a few weeks back) and The Time Traveller’s Wife flash forward to show us the title characters as old women, and both use these flash forwards to give something of a happy ending – or, at least, a bittersweet one.
Whilst there’s very little to criticise about this near-perfect production, one might take issue with the story itself: there is a discussion to be had about whether or not Henry is grooming the young Clare when he goes back to meet her. Ostensibly, it’s touching that whenever he travels back in time, he finds her (albeit at a different stage in life); they’re soulmates, always destined to find each other. But there is something a little icky about a grown man nurturing a young girl that grows up to be his wife – and he is aware of this, whilst she is not. The recent (ill-fated) television adaptation received criticism for glorifying grooming, and that is a valid criticism of the story – but as a production, this stage musical is undeniably terrific (and a little bit traumatic).
Whilst The Time Traveller’s Wife finished its run at Storyhouse on October 15, there are plans for it to transfer (time travel?) to the West End.