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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Time Machine - from the rehearsal room

I don't know if you've seen The Man Who Fell To Earth, but there's a scene (actually more a recurring image) where the alien is sitting watching multiple television screens, absorbing multiple programmes in a wall of jarring dissonance.  I'm sort of living this scene at the moment as I create a stage version of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.
Much of the process of adaptation is fairly straightforward - take the text and cut out what isn't stageable (a lot of description) or interesting (a lot more description), turn text into dialogue and create scenes around the incidents of the book.  This leaves you with a bare bones text to start shaping into a piece of exciting, interesting, living theatre.  And that's where it gets more complicated.
The Time Machine is a story set in the distant future where no one speaks English - or any known modern language.  This creates a problem in writing a drama - a story told via dialogue and plot.  It could be done, but it would involve moving the story away from the original source material in ways that would feel forced.
The beginning of an idea...
I started thinking about how the story could be told, started reading around the story, reading about how time actually works, and current theories about time travel.  I started thinking about how the show will look, how the show will sound, who will be in it, how many people will be in it...
Once you get to that point you stop writing a script, you start drawing it, you start collecting music and sound ideas, you start sketching out movements and set designs - The Time Machine is not being written in a straightforward, text first way.  It can't, the main characters barely talk.
Then I started to see who would be in the production, started writing material around the cast I have (and I have some wonderful people in the cast - more soon) and started to do little tests of material.
On Sunday I went to the theatre and started to lay out tables and chairs, to create a possible layout for the show.  I got together with a member of the cast (Kevin Roychowdhury) and asked him to move around the space, so that I could have images with me at home of how the space works.
I then asked him to stand on a table for ages and test out a short speech that he wasn't going to say.  I didn't know before we started that I was going to do this but, after a quick verbal risk assessment, up he went.  I took a few shots of that as well.  You can see the idea, the basic shape of the image, looks quite cool - though it won't be Kevin on the table and it'll be costumed etc. But it's an idea.  An idea that I've just added to the script.
We then played around with two scenes in the play that have been scripted pretty much from the very beginning - running them with music and working out how long those scenes run.  Kevin, again, stood in for another role, which I filmed so as to watch later and plan changes.  Broadly I've discovered I need to shorten a couple of sequences.  The show is now better.
I was in London the other week, going to the theatre, walking round a few galleries, generally soaking up ideas and images.  Stealing is a necessary part of any artistic endeavour and London is full of ideas to steal.  I spent as much time sitting in a corner somewhere drinking coffee and scribbling in my notebook as I did looking at anything around me.  Mixing ideas, field trips and exploratory rehearsal has given me a pretty good idea of how the set will look.  I know where I'm putting the cast, I know, broadly what they're saying and how they're saying it.
Each week I'm doing more experiments with space, with the text, with images and sound - and each week I'll post some of it online.  For you.  And though I can't be certain precisely how the show will look and sound at this point, I do know one thing.  With two months to go before curtain up, I know The Time Machine is going to be pretty fucking cool.
But I would say that.
Find out for yourself by booking your tickets now.

Quay Productions Presents...
The Time Machine
By H.G. Wells
Adapted and Directed by Robert Crighton

Far in the future, the human race has become something different – a peaceful species, who live in simple harmony with the planet.  But beneath the surface there is a terrifying secret – one that is uncovered by a traveller from the distant past.  Before there was Doctor Who, there was the Time Machine – this is a brand new adaptation of the first true science fiction story, where the past and the future meet with dramatic results. 
Performing: 6th, 7th & 8th April at 7.30pm at The Quay Theatre
Tickets: 01787 374745 or via their website.

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