The Time Machine: A Radical Feminist Retelling – Traverse Theatre

Written by Caitlin Skinner and Melanie Jordan, After H.G. Wells

Directed by Caitlin Skinner

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Every sodding day the possibilities for the future change, and in significant respects, narrow.

And at the end of all things, the outlook for humanity can vary from author to author. For some, we survive into a utopia at the other end of the universe. For others, including maestro of the realms of science-fiction and social commentary HG Wells, saw a more grotesque outcome of languishing privilege, or subterranean despair of the working classes eternal reward as the cannibalistic Morlocks.

But Jordan & Skinner’s Feminist Retelling of The Time Machine keeps the future at arm’s length, never realising the power of what it holds, and though virtuous in intention, its attempts to weave an original story through a re-telling of Well’s novella are in no doubt energetic and amusing but fail to align in a comprehensive manner. Each of the four performers dons an overly sized top hat to tell a fragment of the Victorian time travellers exploits to the two-tiered futuristic world.

Between these moments four women, trapped in a post-apocalyptic scenario, find themselves hunkered down in a nuclear bunker with plenty of beans, coffee, and suddenly four vials of semen; what every survivor needs. Forging the resulting aftermath into a community which disavows the husk of patriarchy, the four women gradually come to terms with their new world – and the possibility that with this sperm, they could, in theory, re-populate the earth with the ‘People’s Baby.’ A child devoid of prejudice, free from the systematic abuses of the world before. It all sounds idyllic. But then you remember the generator hasn’t been powered up.

What the production does tremendously is highlight the archaic notion which is never really questioned in much of science-fiction: why is it a woman’s duty to re-populate? Why is it never a conversation but rather, an expectation. And really, after all is said and done, does humanity even deserve an additional chance? Elements here demonstrate the true potential of Jordan and Skinner’s script – which promises so much but fails to deliver as a whole.

Fundamentally, the decision to attempt similarities between the two narratives, though in theory compelling, does not amount to anything other than a severing of pacing. Well’s original novella was invigorating, and at the time genre-defining, but certainly came with a legion of issues which by today’s standards relegate it to a troublesome piece. And Jordan & Skinner’s attempts to draw out allegory and raise discussion surrounding these issues just comes over as surface-level.

Their peculiar decisions to splice sections of the novella to form a continuation of what the four women in the bunker are discussing often results in more curious choices than clever ones. From the parallels of the Morlock’s resulting taste for cannibalism in line with the contemporary ‘Eat the Rich’ slogans just come over as ill-thought. By the end of it all – we are not entirely certain who to root for here, and as they ask the question of just who we will become; it all sort of just hangs in the air.

And there is little much the cast can work with – despite their best efforts. Amy Conachan and Gabrielle Monica Hughes taking tremendous steps to push for a sense of character outside of the cookie-cutter tropes they have been handed. The pair share a chemistry with others in the cast and make strong foils for Melanie Jordan’s more neurotic role, and Itxaso Moreno’s more spirited and physical presence. And though the cast make use of Christine Ting-Huan Urquhart’s ramshackle set dressings, concerns arise to its set-up and longevity as prop placement seems infrequent and almost distracting for the performers in the more physical scenes where confusion arises.

But perhaps this nihilistic outlook is the intention here. A brutal resetting of the narrative – where everyone is respected equally, and the difficult road ahead to achieve this. But it all feels uneven, where the humour sits at an awkward angle to the commentary and intention – odd because frequently the production admits it does not have the answers. Jordan & Skinner’s romp through a re-telling of The Time Machine champions its feminist nature, but its radical edge feels dulled in comparison to what it ought to be.

Intriguing, But Not Entirely Radical

For further information relating to The Time Machine: A Radical Feminist Retelling, information about the production may be obtained on Jordan & Skinner’s website here.

Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

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