Harry Bignell reviews The Time Machine at The London Library.
This interactive adaptation by Jonathan Holloway of HG Well’s classic The Time Machine is a wonderful excuse to prowl the isle and smell the stacks of hardbacks at one of London’s leading literary institutions.
Tucked away in the corner of sleepy St James’ Square, the London Library houses over one million books and is an old haunt of most of the greats. It is the perfect setting for this futuristic, apocalyptic tale which has taken on a new relevance in light of the recent pandemic.
The audience are led in small groups throughout this performance in a cleverly choreographed sequence than ensures the groups never bump into each other, thus shattering the illusion of being lost somewhere in time.
Leda Douglas was in the role of Time-Travelling Tour Guide Extraordinaire (or so the role appeared to me) for the audience I was in, navigating us with an infectious energy past titles and tomes, and (supposedly) across decades and centuries. Whilst a little slow to warm up, Douglas quickly found her futuristically golden-booted feet, pulling the audience into a compelling story which pays homage to, as opposed to directly retelling, Well’s work.
The story jumps from time-frame to time-frame as the audience are moved from room to room at a pace which at points feels too fast for the more intricate elements of the story to land. Whilst a great excuse to utilise as much of the magnificent building as possible, the constant movement of this piece nevertheless makes it difficult to grasp some of the finer points of the narrative. Then again, I suppose pace is off the essence when there is an aggressive morlock on your tail!
Douglas is a master of audience interaction. This element of the show, so often poorly executed and embarrassing for all involved, is what keeps the audience engaged and amused throughout The Time Machine, even if there were still grumbles about sore feet…
The character of ‘Computer’, played by Graeme Rose, initially feels bizarre and a little hackneyed when played out on actual computer screens of the first reading room the audience are taken too. The character comes endearing life, however, when the audience come across him in person in one of the later room. Rose’s robotic mannerism, vacant smile and blindly trusting nature suit the role perfectly and interactions with him are a highlight.
The other supporting actors lacked some of the confidence and casual ease displayed by Rose in the role and make some a somewhat sketchier picture when it comes to acting across the board. The concept, location and charisma of our leading lady, however, make up for some of the patchier moments and combine to make a very enjoyable event of entertainment.