Theatre review: The Time Machine – Cumbernauld Theatre

First published in The Times, Monday October 17 2022

THREE STARS

What does the future hold? HG Wells, in his 1895 novella The Time Machine, offers a pessimistic diagnosis for humanity. His Victorian gentleman scientist pedals forth on his heavily customised bicycle to the year AD 802701 and discovers the light-fearing Morlocks feeding on the docile, fruitarian Eloi. The story is as much a reflection on the inequality of the late 19th century as a work of speculative fiction.

This uneven but energetic and entertaining production from Jordan & Skinner, the feminist theatre company, interweaves Wells through an original story of four women awaiting some apocalyptic event who take matters into their own hands, building a community that repudiates patriarchy and the excesses of capitalism. Life in the makeshift bunker runs smoothly enough until one member of the quartet unexpectedly returns from a foraging trip with a batch of human sperm.

Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

The scenes in which the group speculates about their aspirations for “the people’s baby” (not to mention their wider hopes and fears for the future) are among the sharpest and funniest in the 70-minute show. Inevitably, competing visions and approaches begin to threaten the stability of this previously unwavering collective, not least the question of whose body will play host to the utopian child.

The tone of the piece, which was devised by the ensemble (Amy Conachan, Gabrielle Monica Hughes, Melanie Jordan and Itxaso Moreno) alongside Caitlin Skinner, the director, is a refreshing mix of righteous anger undercut by black humour. At times, the show’s targets seem a little obvious — everyone from Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates to Starbucks, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew gets it in the neck — and the reference to HG Wells feels almost surplus to requirements, aside from a general sense of despair at humanity’s tendency towards self-destruction. Better to have ditched the top-hatted Victorian gent altogether.

There is, though, something invigorating in the company’s gleeful eschewing of politeness and restraint as they take on conventional power structures and hierarchies and the obscenity of growing inequality. It would be wonderful to see them apply this bold approach to work with a little more dramatic focus.

Touring to November 9. Jordanandskinner.com 

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Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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