“This work of fiction is in fact, FACT!” Such is proclaimed by the supposed great-great-grandson of H.G. Wells at the opening of The Time Machine, which recently played Bolton Octagon as part of its nationwide tour.
In this production, fact and fiction soon begin to blur together in a vortex of theatrical comedy which somewhat resembles Wells’ classic only insofar as it’s all about wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff.
Brought to us by the theatre company behind The Play That Goes Wrong, and its many spin-offs, this staging of The Time Machine is designed not just to break the fourth wall but absolutely obliterate it. The premise is that we the audience are witnessing time travel being discovered in real time amidst the staging of The Time Machine, all at a moment when the play goes wrong, horribly wrong. Are you with me? If not, don’t worry, you’ll get used to that!
As the plays and its players begin to tie themselves in knots over the rules of time travel, the continuity, and the implications of it all, the silliness of such an impossible endeavour gives way to a fast-paced farce that certainly makes for a refreshingly goofy time at the theatre.
Thanks to the endless energy of the core cast, this whacky stage play keeps you hooked all the way from the Victorian era to the post-apocalyptic far future. The cast has bundles of charisma, enough so that you’ll keep rooting for them even at moments in the second half when it seems they may be having more fun than the audience.
Those afraid or wary of audience participation should be warned as there are plenty of moments at which the audience is called upon to interact with the narrative as the play descends into madness. If you have a flare for lively interactive theatre then this is your chance to become part of the story.
However, those understandably deterred just need to avoid booking seats in the front row! Alas, I was one unsuspecting soul called upon to remember a crucial concept from the first act but thankfully the cast were as warm and generous as they were spontaneous and what resulted from my, and others’, participation was miraculously undaunting.
All the fun and frivolity may leave some yearning for more substance from The Time Machine, with many juicy dramatic questions asked, almost none of which ever get an answer, in favour of goofy gimmicks. However, this invigorated the audience with dusty and predictable turns replaced by unbridled antics. This may be overdone for those very well-acquainted with The Play That Goes Wrong series, but it may just be a revitalising comedy for those who haven’t had fun at the theatre outside of panto season.
If you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic then keep looking, but if you are in search of something fresh and fun that restores the excitement and joy of the theatre then this one is for you. Buckle up for all manner of oddities from a pistol-wielding Miss Piggy to several – I repeat, several – Cher covers.
So, by the end, you’ll forget whether you really did just witness Wells’ descendant adapt the work or whether every fact was really fiction or whether any of it made a lick of sense because it is a riotous ride throughout.