Natasha Rickman is directing Creation Theatre’s re-imagining of HG Wells’ iconic sci-fi-novel in one of the most iconic of settings, The London Library. This piece of promenade theatre will be staged for five weeks and opens later this month. Here she gives Close-up Culture the low down.
Q: This production will mark the 125th anniversary of H.G. Well’s ‘The Time Machine’. How familiar were you with this work before becoming involved in this project?
A: Working on this project means I have been able to really immerse myself in the book – in our adaptation there is a line calling HG Wells the Cassandra of his time in terms of seeing the future – and he truly was. This story has also seeped into every pore of how we think about time travel in popular culture – from Dr Who to Back to the Future. Wells’ book was the first to really feature a time travelling machine in this way and opened the door for everything that came after.
Q: Award-winning playwright Jonathan Holloway was tasked with writing a contemporary version of ‘The Time Machine’. Can you talk about Jonathan’s adaptation and how he brings this work into 2020?
A: This adaptation takes place in a parallel reality where time travel has been invented and then quickly made illegal. But the genie is out of the bottle and rabid time travelling has turned reality upside down – so now the audience must journey with their time traveller to try and put things right. Jonathan has updated how and where time travel is invented (you’ll have to see the show to find out) and along the way we journey through how time travel has affected things including Oliver Hardy, Virginia Woolf, the colour of people’s socks and Jean Paul Gaultier’s dance music career.
Q: I understand the production draws on research from the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities. Can you tell us more about this and how it is felt through the story?
A: What our time travellers have seen in the future is based on the research Jonathan has been doing with the scientists at the Wellcome Centre – and is based on their predictions. In the pre-rehearsal draft of the script there was a section predicting the coronavirus before it had come into the public consciousness – so already Jonathan has done rewrites to keep pace with advances as they come in. Our audience may well experience what HG Wells’ contemporaries did – seeing some of the time travellers other predictions coming true within their lifetime.
Q: The production has been described as a ‘surreal and psychedelic adventure’. What challenges have you faced in bringing this story alive and creating a fitting visual experience for this sci-fi tale?
A: As well as our wonderful live cast, other characters in the story are created through audio and visual technology. This means our technical team and creatives are integral to exploring ideas as we have them in the rehearsal room. Creation are brilliant because they are always open to experimenting, playing and trying new things – so if we come up against a logistical challenge there is always a creative way around it.
Visually, my conversations with the designer Ryan have focussed on what the effect of time travel might have on your fashion sense – and how we can realise this theatrically whilst also keeping the practical element in mind that our time travellers are journeying throughout an entire building.
Q: The production will take place at the London Library. What will this setting bring to ‘The Time Machine’?
A: Books are time machines in themselves – they allow us to travel into the mind of someone in the past, present or future. HG Wells was also a member there – so has in all likelihood walked the same path our audience will.
Q: How have the cast taken to this story so far?
A: Our cast are fantastic and we are very lucky to have a rehearsal room full of experimentation. This is really a show about giving information and provocation to an audience about the future of the world we live in, so it’s something that directly affects all of us.
Q: What are your hopes this run of ‘The Time Machine’?
A: That our audiences leave knowing more about themselves than they did when they arrived.
The Time Machine presented by Creation Theatre at The London Library runs from the 29 Feb to 5 April. For more information please go to: https://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/time-machine/
About Natasha Rickman: Natasha is an artistic associate at Jermyn Street Theatre and co-founder of Women@RADA. Her directing credits include: Twelfth Night, Rose Bankside, Rhino Kings Head. Associate director: A Little Night Music, Storyhouse, Shirley Valentine Bury St Edmunds, Comedy of Errors RSC, Romeo and Juliet The Globe.