Time travel, Morlocks and hints of veganism - our review of The Time Machine at The Customs House, South Shields

For audiences today, The Time Machine is as much a journey into the past as it is into the future.

Friday, 5th October 2018, 12:43 pm
Updated Friday, 5th October 2018, 12:58 pm
Stephen Cunningham in The Time Machine

The 1865 novel was one of the very first examples of science fiction, and while its narrative is an exploration of a futuristic world, the underlying subtext is one which delves into the issues facing Victorian society and their implications for the future.

And in an age social and political civil war over Brexit, Donald Trump, ever-increasing tensions between Russia and Europe, when a sense that seismic shifts are coming to the existing world order prevails, never has it seemed a better time to dust off HG Wells's classic.

Writer and director Elton Townsend Jones has perfectly crafted the novel into stage-friendly script which conveys all the suspense, intrigue and ideas - along with fresh imagination - using just one actor and the simplest of simple sets.

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Ingenious lighting, stage directions and an amazingly energetic performance by Stephen Cunningham take us from the Time Traveller's workshop in 1900 to the "ruinous splendour" of the Earth's far future, its dark underbelly of horrors, and on to the dying days of our planet.

The story is that of a gentleman scientist who builds a time machine in his workshop in Richmond, Surrey, in 1900 and uses it to travel thousands of years in the future, where he explores the strange new world which awaits him.

Or, as neatly summed up by Sheldon in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, our hero is transported from "Victorian England into the post-apocalyptic future, in which society had splintered into two factions - the sub-terranean Morlocks, who survived by feasting on the flesh of the gentle surface dwelling Eloy."

The Time Machine is one of the latest creations of Dyad Productions, a company which reimagines classic theatre with an innovative and contemporary edge.

Jones said the company's approach was to take the essence of Wells' work while realigning the questions he raises with 21st Century issues: the social and political problems we face, environmental concerns - even hints veganism, which has seen a formidable rise in recent years.

The Time Machine has been adapted into two Hollywood films, as well as for television.

But for all the special effects, spectacular props and big-name stars, they aren't a patch on Dyad's.

The creativity required to stage a Victorian science fiction tale using only a white sheet, wooden step and one actor leads feats of theatrical genius and energy that a Hollywood blockbuster just can't compete with.

Such a staging also capitalises on storytelling's most powerful weapon - the audience's imagination.

Sadly, The Time Machine was at The Customs House for just one night. But thankfully the theatre plays host to many such small productions and it's worth keeping an eye out for others coming up.

Dyad Productions also tours regularly, so keep an eye out for their future dates.