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The Time Machine at The Old Red Lion Theatre – Review

Nunkie Time Machine illustration Paul Lowe
Nunkie Time Machine illustration Paul Lowe

As I entered the distinctive end-on-corner auditorium of the Old Red Lion Theatre the usherette (are we still allowed to call them that or is that terribly un-PC?) took my ticket and suggested that I walk across the stage to the seating but in front of “the machine” and definitely not behind it. “Why – might I disappear if I do?” I enquired. She gave me one of those looks that even in the half-light told me she thought I was completely stark-raving bonkers. I walked in front of the machine.

PC, of course, wasn’t invented in late Victorian times when H.G. Wells wrote his masterpiece novella The Time Machine(1895). It was also one of the few things he failed to spot would happen in the future. And although this is a pretty faithful reincarnation of the original I personally don’t recall the word “bastard” being used to describe the Morlocks or the frequent use of the epithet “bloody”. But these are perhaps natural consequences of this bushy-bearded Time Traveller’s blunderbuss approach to relating the story of his venture into the future.

Robert Lloyd Parry is said Time Traveller – he’s also responsible for the adaptation – and his generally sympathetic approach to Wells’s vocabulary is at odds with such 21st-century expressions and inflection. After a careful and gentle introduction into the story – though “no interruptions!” was a rather gratuitous command to a respectful theatre audience – we were treated to – or perhaps had to endure is a better way to put it – a full-frontal bluster-phon, an entirely unscientific excoriation of the future progeny of the Victorian scientist-time-traveller, something I didn’t get from the original.

Parry screams and shouts and rants and blasts the audience seemingly in a no-holds-barred attempt to out-Blessed Blessed. The volume is frequently turned up to eleven and as a consequence eardrums take a battering in such a small space. Sometimes actors are criticised for their lack of projection and their apparent inability to adapt to a bigger space.The opposite is true here: this is not a cavernous hall with unforgiving acoustics. This is an intimate space where sotto voce is equivalent to normal speech and an empathetic actor will take this on board. Not so Parry: he often seems to be trying to engage the audience at the Hope Theatre at the opposite end of Upper Street. Take it down a notch or two, Mr Parry. Perhaps channel some subtlety?

Add to this the liberal use of the deliberate, whisker-gobbling, Boris-esque jowell-stutter: increasingly frequent as the show goes on, it’s an attempt, I presume, to get across the incredulity of the Time Traveller to the strange events unfolding before him. A kind of search for the right words to convey the character’s disbelief. Often used, of course, by actors searching for the next line. In this context, its overuse becomes extremely irritating appearing as a weak attempt to develop characterisation and as such becomes self-indulgent. The show has been running for over three years and I have noticed before with one-person shows that, over time, lacking other characters to bounce off and react to, the performer gets into bad habits that were not present at the beginning and become difficult to shake off. As far as I can see no director is credited for the show: I would suggest that it desperately needs the disinterested input of an outside eye.

I say one-person show though this is, in truth, a one person-and-machine show. The time machine itself is like a second character: Parry uses it as, a hill, a well, a statue, a look-out point and more, cleverly displaying its full versatility. He starts off inside, hidden from the audience (sorry, spoiler) stands it up from prone, and reveals it as a giant metronome – the arm being ingeniously detached and employed as a weapon. Clearly designing the time machine was as enjoyable/important as adapting the novella for Parry but I would suggest that while the character of the machine has remained steadfastly constant since the inception of the show Parry’s own character has slipped into rather lazy short-cuts.

The basic lighting plot didn’t help matters much lurching from too dim to too bright with the standard cliché red pulsing light for the fire sequence which doesn’t really work: a deep red-orange glow that rises in intensity and compass would be better. Ashley Summers’s sinister soundscape, though, is spookily futuristic and helps create the atmosphere.

In the end, the question one asks with adaptations is – does staging it enhance the original? Many people may find that it does but for me, I prefer to listen to Wells’s own gently urging symbiotic voice rather than have it drowned out by Parry’s.

3 Star Review

Review by Peter Yates

I have lived such days as no man has lived before…
1895. In a suburban garden, beneath a waning moon, a man lies beside a remarkable machine. He has a story to tell. A story of darkness and light. Of fire and fear. Of Eloi and Morlocks. An unbelievable story about our future that he insists is true… Is it a joke? A prophecy? A dream?

The Time Machine
4th – 9th October 2016

Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm
Saturday & Sunday matinees 2.30pm


  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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