The Time Traveller’s Wife

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The acclaimed book by Audrey Niffenegger which was made into a film and a TV series is now a West End musical.

Its premise is pretty straightforward and a standard of fiction since the time of H.G.Wells: a man, in this case Henry, played by David Hunter, is able to travel in time. Henry has a genetic condition which obliges his time travel, he does not know how long he will be away or where he will go to.  The interest of the story is Henry’s relationship with Clare who he first meets when he is working in a library and she comes in for a book.  Except that he doesn’t first meet her then, he has known her since she was five years old, visiting her in the past.  Clare knows this, but Henry doesn’t, as when they meet in the library he is yet to travel back in time to see Clare as she is growing up.  Such are the complications of the story which are repeated, in lieu of a plot, as Clare ages from a child to the age of 82 when she last sees Henry.

It is not difficult to see in the metaphor of a time traveller the sort of man many women will have experienced – secretive and often absent for uncertain periods after which he expects the relationship to continue as before. The themes of The Time Traveller’s Wife are universal – the love for someone who is absent, lost time which can never be recovered and fatal inevitability.

We don’t expect the more profound questions of determinism in the novel to be dealt with in musical theatre but a nod to greater profundity would be welcome.  Unfortunately, this production goes for schmaltz and melodrama every time.  Where there could be a plot complication, there is just another declaration of love and a disappearance.

Joanna Woodward as Clare has an excellent voice and gives the show her all but the songs are unmemorable, the dancing basic.  One excellent scene, however, on a largely dark stage illuminated by flashes shows Henry in full on time travelling mode, leaping and swooping through the darkness propelled as if weightless by a team of technicians. More of this and less door slamming and marital bickering would have helped.  The sets, particularly the library, are wonderful.

The couple who should be the foil for Henry and Clare, are their friends Clarisse and Gomez played by Hiba Elchike and Tim Mahendran.  They should be providing a comic sub-plot, offsetting the main characters’ serious dilemma, but that bit of theatrical structure is absent so Clarisse and Gomez are just, well, there.  There is the plus, however, of Tim Mahendran’s powerful voice, his Gomez is a strong character, unfortunately utilised for just one song.

On paper this show is a dream: good source material, first class musicians and lyricists in Dave Stewart and Joss Stone, a book by Lauren Gunderson who is said to be the most produced playwright in the US today.  Sometimes, for all the magicians, magic doesn’t happen.