Saturday, 14 June 2014

Theatre: HG Wells’ dark vision of society takes audience back to the future

There are few short stories that have had the impact and influence of The Time Machine by H G Wells - a tale that popularised the concept of time travel and coined the phrase ‘time machine’.

Next Friday, actor and playwright Robert Lloyd Parry will be performing his one-man adaptation of Wells’ 1895 classic at Square Chapel, Halifax.

“What a brilliant idea to think of a vehicle that could travel through time,” says Robert.

“It’s an amazing idea, and to think that he was the first person to come up with something so influential makes it very exciting.

“I’m approaching it as a piece of storytelling. It’s a one-man show where you encounter the time traveller just after he’s returned from the future. It’ simply me on stage recounting the experiences.”

The Time Machine recounts the story of an unnamed time traveller who invents a machine to travel into the distant future.

He travels to the year 802,701 to find the human race has degenerated into two distinct species - the decadent Elois that evolved from the upper-classes and the sinister and cannibalistic Morlocks that evolved from the Victorian working-classes.

“H G Wells was a founder member of the Fabian society - he was definitely interested in the way society works and the divisions within society,” says Robert.

“It’s a satire of its own time, which I think is no less relevant today.

“Society has always been divided, and his vision of the distant future takes that division to the ugliest extremes.”

The play is staged around the central prop of a full-size time machine - a giant metronome designed and built by Factory Settings Ltd who created many of the giant props used in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics.

“It’s basically a ten-foot high metronome with steps up to the top so I can climb up it and over it,” says Robert.

“It becomes the focus of whatever I’m talking about at the time - at one point it’s the pedestal beneath the Sphinx where the time machine gets hidden, and then it becomes the well he climbs down where he meets the Morlocks for the first time - it’s a multi-purpose central focus for the audience.”

The Time Machine contiues Robert’s obsession with late-19th century fiction, and follows his eerie retellings of the ghost stories of M R James.

He recently played the author in Mark Gatiss’ documentary “Ghost Writer” shown on BBC2 on Christmas Day 2013.

“That period of literature, the end of the 19th century, just thrills me and has done since I was a teenager,” says Robert.

“I first read The Time Machine when I was 13. There’s a great philosophical, political and satirical dimension to it, but more than anything, it’s just one of the great adventure stories, one of the great achievements of the human imagination - I just love the thrill, the horror and the absurdity of the story,” he says.

“You have this Golden Age of the English short story towards the end of the 19th century.

“Literacy greatly improved during the 19th century, so there was a real appetite for accessible stories.

“Wells produced a few works like War of the Worlds and the Invisible Man within a very short period.”

Robert says he has tried to keep the story as close to the original novella as possible, but made changes to the beginning and casts doubt onto whether the time traveller is telling the truth.

“I’ve cut out the first 20 pages where the time traveller is arguing with his dinner guests about the reality of time travel and the fourth dimension and so on,” says Robert.

“I didn’t think that had much place on stage, so I’ve reduced it to the adventure itself,” he says.

“I like the idea that audiences would be perfectly justified in thinking that the narrator is simply a mad man - you don’t get that so much in H G Wells’ novel, but there is doubt among his listeners.

“I look pretty disheveled when I arrive back from the future, so people would be justified in thinking that I was a tramp who’d taken something that has expanded his mind.”

“I’d like people to think that he is telling the truth, but it is open,” he says.

lThe Time Machine will be performed at Square Chapel, Halifax, on Friday, June 20.

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