H.G. Wells' The Time Machine
nytheatre.com review by Chris Harcum
December 16, 2010
If you do a web search on the most influential science fictions stories, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells tops the list on many sites. But if you place this story in with novels from other genres, then it drops down to the mid-50s on some people's top 100 lists. This is possibly due to the fact that what happens in the work broke new ground, while how it unfolds is less earth-shattering. Published in 1895, the novella is credited with the introduction of the idea of time being the fourth dimension.
It has been adapted into film as well as several comic book permutations, including the Classics Illustrated version, whose cover was a siren's call to the bean bag chairs in the back of my third grade class, and is the image used by Radiotheatre for its stage adaptation now running at The Red Room. While other versions rely heavily on visuals to tell the story, Radiotheatre's version, adapted and directed by Dan Bianchi, is primarily an aural experience.
True to its name, Radiotheatre has been creating work—combining elements used during the heyday of radio drama with some technical elements of today's digital era—for seven seasons. On entering the theatre, one gets an immediate sense of this. There are posters of previous productions plastering the back wall and two music stands raised to chest level on an oriental rug. No screens, no sets, no long list of names in the program, and no foley artists. Stripped of some elements but beefed up in others, one might say it is more of a concert performance of the novella.
A time traveler makes a machine that utilizes the fourth dimension. The time traveler and his wife lost their daughter when the girl was young. (To streamline, this adaptation has the wife character standing in the place of several other characters found in the original.) The traveler shows the wife his creation the night before he uses it to go way in the past where he encounters good creatures, the Eloi, and bad creatures, the Morlocks, and must save Weena, a young Eloi. Though the time traveler was only gone for a few hours in real time, he was battling the Morlocks and retrieving his machine hidden at the base of a white sphinx for several days.
Kate Siepert and Frank Zilinyi step up to the microphones and provide the human elements to this 75-minute wall of sound. Without using direct interaction with one another or the audience, they take turns pushing the story forward. She narrates what is going on with him to the audience and he narrates his adventures to her. Alongside this is an original recorded soundscape that provides a lot of texture and effects that serve to underscore and punctuate, but more frequently competes with the work of the actors. There are also flashing lights and an enthusiastic fog machine that covers the audience in a haze. Depending on your tolerance level, this can make you feel more involved with the trip or irritated because it is a huge distraction. Those I spoke with in attendance the other night were split.
Overall, I feel this is a production that is aching to be done at Wembley Stadium over the intimacy of the Red Room. For those who like their storytelling turned up to 11, this is for you. If not, you may find yourself more distanced than drawn in to the tidal wave of sound.