There can be few places as profoundly lonely as the stage in a one man production. In the end everything – script, direction and production – is dependent on the performance of just one individual. The creation of a unique theatrical world, and the successful induction of an audience into it, will rise and fall with the efforts of the lonely figure on stage, caught in the spotlights like some desperate, detected escapee from reality.
But last night, at The Lowry’s Studio Theatre, Robert Lloyd Parry’s performance in The Time Machine negated the audience’s natural sympathy, which one human should feel for another in such circumstances. Why? Because he didn’t need it. Within a brace of minutes he had made us forget he was an actor in Victorian whiskers and tattered long-johns, and instead convinced us that he was either an adventurer in time, or a man who has strayed perilously close to the borders of human sanity.
In fact, Lloyd Parry’s performance as The Time Traveller did something very special indeed, namely he made me believe that the words he spoke were genuinely his; unscripted, untutored and entirely spontaneous. Personally, I’ve only ever encountered this phenomena a handful of times in my life, most notably in Ian McKellen’s eponymous performance in the film version of Richard III. And while this rare skill isn’t an absolute requisite in the enjoyment of drama, for there is much to be said for theme and style in performance, it is sufficiently rare as to be noteworthy.
This, however, is not Lloyd Parry’s only noteworthy achievement here, for in addition to performing the piece he is also responsible for adapting H.G. Wells‘ 1895 novel for the stage. For anyone familiar with this classic of science fiction it’s clear that this is a faithful adaptation, retaining as it does all the key messages that Wells himself sought to impart – the possible consequences of human division by class; the need for struggle in the face of adversity to ensure progress as a species; and the dangers of social degeneration if such warnings are not heeded.
Yet into all this Lloyd Parry has injected a very human note of humour, something that was always lacking in Wells’ own work. But the real triumph here does not lie in the telling of the Time Traveller’s journey into the future, adroit as it is, nor even of his encounter with the placid Eloi or the sinister Morlocks. No, what really stands out here is the Ballardian exploration of the human mind, the mapping of the edges of sanity and the Time Traveller cerebral journey far beyond the borders of normal human experience. Lloyd Parry’s ‘Chronic Argonaut‘ has defied the arrow of time and glimpsed the madness that the inevitability of entropy inevitably produces. Personally, I’d go so far as to say his nuanced yet physical performance goes further into this territory than Wells himself did.
Indeed, when reading the original novel you feel Wells’ repulsion at the great decline, and who can blame him for the human mind was never meant to think outside of time, at least not without consequences, and certainly not without the inoculating Victorian certainty that the descent into disorder must be fought, as if the word ‘inevitable’ and all its thesaurian sisters had never existed.
Lloyd Parry makes excellent use of what few props there are on stage as well as the space given to him to tell his story. Lighting and sound combine admirably in helping the audience to see both the world of yesterday and our common tomorrow and, at times, they ratchet up the tension to quite disquieting levels. Tribute must also be paid to The Lowry Studio itself for working with the Nunkie Theatre Company as part of its ‘Developed With’ programme. The Lowry’s Studio’s stated aim is to become the incubator for new talent in the North West and, on the basis of this fascinating, exciting and fine piece of work, I’d say its aim is pretty damn good.
Review by Alfred Searls
What: The Time Machine
Where: The Lowry, Salford, and at The Harrogate Theatre, 12-13 July, 2013
More info: www.nunkie.co.uk/theatre.html