Review: The Time Machine (Strange Duck Productions)

Venue: NIDA Parade Theatres (Kensington NSW), Apr 11 – May 2, 2018
Playwright: Frank Gauntlett (based on the novella by HG Wells)
Director: Gareth Boylan
Cast: Mark Lee
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
In the space of science fiction, our imagination of what is yet come, reveals less about the truths of the future, and more about the values and beliefs that we hold today. In Frank Gauntlett’s adaptation of HG Wells’ The Time Machine, an Englishman travels from Victorian times to the year 802,701 AD, where he encounters an evolutionary state of humankind, split into clear distinctions of species, good and bad.

Instead of luxuriating in the welcoming utopia that he stumbles upon, our protagonist pursues the evil creatures who had stolen his machine, and in the process interferes with the ecosystem that he discovers. There is also a romantic encounter, with the hero claiming a female character from the new world, as he tries to bring themselves back to the 19th century. The Time Machine is an action-packed one-man show that puts on display, the narcissistic self-aggrandising tendencies of men, who are persistent in figuring themselves as braver, more righteous, more long-suffering and under attack than anyone else in their fictional narratives.

The true hero is actor Mark Lee, whose energetic precision provides all the theatrical entertainment we require. He is a captivating presence, interminably persuasive with all that he serves up. A highly skilled performer, with an astonishing familiarity with the text, Lee is intense, inventive and tenacious in approach, leaving his audience impressed, even if the material he presents is less than inspiring. Director Gareth Boylan introduces a healthy quantity of visual variation to the show that helps draw our attention back, when we begin to lose interest in the monotonous narration of unwavering gallantry. Lights by Martin Kinnane are particularly useful in this regard. Michael Waters’ sound design too, works hard to facilitate our concentration.

It is a recurring theme in our stories, where we find ourselves in places belonging to others, then quickly and convincingly asserting our victimhood, before successfully overcoming the enemy. There is truth in saying that life requires us to move outside of ourselves, that the spirit of curiosity and discovery is essential to a meaningful existence, but the belief that “the world is your oyster” must be examined with greater sensitivity. Spaces are defined long before we enter them. Wherever we choose to venture, we must be mindful of how it is configured. If we decide to cause disruption, we must tread with utmost care and caution.