Thursday 6 October 2016

The Time Machine - a play based on the novella by H G Wells, adapted and performed by Robert Lloyd Parry - Old Red Lion Theatre, London: 5 October 2016

First time posting here for a play review, but the subject matter's very in keeping with DEoL, so it fits in comfortably with the 'anything else that fits the bill' part of the site's strapline.

Robert Lloyd Parry's one man revisioning of H G Wells's novella 'The Time Machine' is a triumph of physicality and, if you'll pardon the use of the word, invention.

Wells's original text was the somewhat cool and rational account of an unnamed time traveller's journey into the distant future and his encounter with two races (the placid Eloi and the troglodytic Morlocks) - it's the author's contribution to the 'what if?' literature of the end of the 19th century.  Parry's re-telling is a far more visceral rendition, and while the vigorous and abhorrent descriptions of what he sees maybe more frantic than the source text, his excitement is entirely understandable. Parry's talent easily allows the audience to conjure up the (invisible) cast of Eloi, Morlocks and otherworldly shapes that the time traveller encounters in the course of his adventures - it's effective and imaginative storytelling.

Parry breaks the narrative in two. In the first act he describes his first forays into time travel (wisely skipping any description of his machine, which as I recall from the text is basically a complex bicycle), his arrival in A.D 802,701 and his account of the insidiously harmless Eloi. In the much darker Act 2 he introduces the Morlocks, the attempts to recover his time machine, his relationship with Eloi Weena and the traveller's ultimate return to the 19th century via a trip even further into the future, in which he witnesses, very impressively and with only a fading light for company, the end of all living things.

Parry in action as the time traveller
Dressed only in a Victorian 'onesie,' distressed socks and unkempt beard, Parry's characterisation of the time traveller depicts him as eccentric and irascible, a scientist whose attempts to remain rational are ultimately scuppered by the sensory experience he undergoes and his own innate sense of curiosity. His excitable performance is part Brian Blessed, a little bit of the modern world confounded Catweazle (and I mean this in a good way) and, towards the end, a soupcon of Charlton Heston playing George Taylor at the finale of the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes (an ending which is indebted to the Victorian 'dying earth' story). He plays it, if not exactly fast and loose with the source material, then generously, introducing some modernisms (it is after all an acting performance), great humour and some literary in jokes: at one point he refers to himself as 'The Chronic Argonaut' (referencing the title of a similarly themed short story written by Wells in 1888), and when wandering around the disused library he states "No Homer, no Virgil, no George Gissing" (which is undoubtedly a nod to the at-the-time extremely popular Victorian author who is practically forgotten today, never mind eight thousand years in the future).

The production is a stripped-down one. Apart from a garden chair, a lantern and a cucumber, the main prop is a specially designed large faux-Victorian metronome-styled structure which acts as Parry's activity centre, allowing him to scale its sides, crawl within it and generally utilise various parts to help bring the world of the future to life. Ashley Summers' sound design is similarly spare; I liked the sped up clock chimes signifying the time traveller's journey to the future, but it seemed a little underused in the more dramatic second act.

This is a bold and enthusiastic performance from an actor more usually associated with sedate readings of the ghost stories of M R James, but he is to be congratulated on bringing a classic slice of Victorian degeneration fiction to rude life.

No comments:

Post a Comment