The Time Machine: A Virtual Reality review – a sleek voyage through the fourth wall | Stage

The Time Machine’s first run at the London Library, intended to celebrate HG Wells, was abruptly cut short due to Covid-19. Now it has been re-imagined as an interactive online experience by the ever-enterprising Creation Theatre. The show is set in the year 2300, when raging epidemics and rampant inequality have drastically depleted the world’s population. With the help of some shape-shifting time travellers, it’s down to us – the online audience – to rewrite the future.

There’s a fun and eerily prescient production hiding in here but it takes a good hour for the plot to materialise. Jonathan Holloway’s script was written in collaboration with academics from Oxford University’s Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities and feels weighed down by research, impressive though it is. As we whizz through time, floating heads excitedly discuss fourth dimensions, infinite loops and trapped time travellers known as Morlocks. The mind reels but never really locks in.

Director Natasha Rickman and video designer Stuart Read have created a sophisticated landscape of projected backdrops, including metallic wastelands, shelled-out ships and gleaming research labs. But there’s something about this show’s sci-fi gloss that makes it far less compelling than the low-fi charm of Creation Theatre’s recent take on The Tempest.

A few stark moments of despair and (phew) hope emerge. Against a pure white backdrop, Paul PK Taylor’s Time Traveller conjures a terrifying vision of a future where cannibalistic clusters of society hide underground. As we travel through time, we’re told to grab our online “portals” (objects from home) and imagine ourselves into the future; you can almost hear the hum of concentration as we collectively will ourselves into a different, better time.

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