Writers: Steven Canny and John Nicholson
Director: Orla O’Loughlin
Dave, the self-satisfied, pompous, and misogynistic creator of The Time Machine: A Comedy, currently at the Park Theatre, promises the show will disclose “startling and alarming revelations about HG Wells”. To wit, the dramatic events set out in his great-great grandfather’s 1895 science fiction novella are all true. The evidence? There is a ticket to a 2025 reunion of Take That in his forbear’s belongings and someone who looks like the celebrated author appears in photos of every major 20th century historical event. Oh, and by happenstance Dave finds Wells’ original time machine, looking an awful lot like the one from the 1960 movie, in his attic.
Determined to make a theatrical impression, Dave (Dave Hearn) persuades fellow thespians Michael (Michael Dylan and Amy (Amy Revelle) to replace their current production of The Importance Of Being Earnest with a piece of verbatim theatre laying bare the historical truth. Things go array during the performance when Amy, distracted with annoyance at the lack of Cher songs and decent parts in the play for women, mistakes a real knife for a prop. Michael dies on stage and it is “not like when he tried stand-up”.
Dave tries again and again to go back in time to alter the sequence of events leading up to Michael’s demise, something which places the actors in a different dimension of time to their audience (“isn’t that what normally happens at the theatre” he muses rhetorically). But try as Dave might, he just cannot beat the “timeline protection paradox”. TV’s Brian Cox has blocked his calls so there is no aid coming from that direction. Imprisoned in the show’s own version of Groundhog Day, Michael’s fatal destiny is seemingly sealed by the laws of physics.
But then Amy has an idea. It just might work but it will require the audience’s help. Michael meanwhile wants to live out his last hours in style. That entails a Hamlet soliloquy and an onstage date, complete with pizza and wine, with an unwary spectator. Choose front-row seats at your own risk for this one or you may find yourself à deux with Michael or in an orange Morlock wig mouthing “yummy, yummy” at all and sundry. Will the trio’s friendship overcome the apparently unyielding laws of nature and so save Michael’s life? This being warm-hearted Christmas fare one can but hope.
Hearn is a founding member of Mischief Theatre, the team behind the …Goes Wrong stable of comedies. The Time Machine: A Comedy is penned by different writers. But, presumably drawing on the if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them dictum, the metatheatrical show-within-a-show vibe of that series of mega-hits is much apparent here. Anticipate fourth-wall breaking, missed cues, stage lighting on the blink (“It’s been PAT tested… Who’s Pat?”) and dialogue delivered out of sync. Also in store are a collapsing set, a bickering cast, and an audience member who neglects to switch off their phone for fear of missing a call from the family vet. If you loved The Play That Goes Wrong, you will probably love this.
There is not a huge amount of interrogation of the themes underpinning Wells’ novella here, but one supposes that is not the point. Writers Steven Canny and John Nicholson deliver some Dr Who-style exploration of time paradoxes in the first half with the aid of appearances from Harry and Megan, Kermit and Miss Piggy, Queen Victoria, and the cast of Eastenders. Pay attention to the “Grandfather paradox” and the “Hitler paradox” as you may find yourselves quizzed about them later on. It is amusing enough stuff, if a little half-hearted, and mainly there to set up the much more (comically speaking) successful second half.
The trio’s performances are polished throughout and shine particularly well in the emphatically good-natured second-half stand-up-style crowd work. Dylan’s Lady Bracknell Hip-Hop dance mash-up from The Importance Of Being Earnest is deliciously funny and Revelle gets to trot out her Cher impersonations to solid effect. O’Loughlin has manifest talent as a comedy director.
“Some of you came here expecting to be entertained – let that thought go” Hearn pontificates early on. That is unfair. The Time Machine: A Comedy is a manifestly entertaining evening, even if occasionally you may yearn for a tad more originality.
Runs until 30 December 2023