Thursday 6 October 2016

The Time Machine, Southbank Centre London

Opening London Literature Festival 2016 audiences were treated to a very special reading of a much beloved tale – Christopher Eccleston performing H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. On entering the Royal Festival Hall we were greeted with the music of James McVinnie, his mastery of his impressive instrument clear. The stage was bare but for three chairs and accompanying microphones, the huge organ standing proud above. Three figures walked on, all in black with top hats on (which thankfully didn't remain), the lights went down and the transformation began.

Eccleston made a humourous, somewhat eccentric Time Traveller who was not without his integrity. There were clearly many fans of his other famous time traveller role, spatters of laughter emerged at every mention of the phrase ‘time travel’. Nikki Amuka-Bird and Emma Hamilton made the perfect companions, easily slipping between roles and narrating when the Time Traveller had moved beyond the realms of other humans. The occasional moment of panic flickered across Eccleston’s face when one assumes he’s lost his place, but no cues were missed, and the three brought the story to life wonderfully. The lighting and music added atmosphere, the swirling lights of the time travel induced sympathy for the nausea induced by the experience for our pioneering protagonist.

I had forgotten quite how wonderful a wordsmith Wells was, and it was extremely pleasant to have his prose performed by such actors, able to bring the text to life as their voices resounded around the Hall. His famous story is said to have laid the foundations for many a time travel tale that have come since and his thinly veiled allusions to the prominent fin-de-siècle themes of his day are not irrelevant to modern audiences. The helpless Eloi and violent Morlock are characters who form the basis for many futuristic visions created today.

This incredibly influential book, adapted into an hour and a half of intense performance, continues to enthrall. We may have entered the Hall on London’s South bank but we were transported across the centuries by this thoughtful adaptation. An excellent start to London Literature Festival 2016.

The full festival listing can be found on the Southbank Centre’s website.

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