The Time Machine is a new immersive experience at the London Library. Written by Jonathan Holloway and directed by Natasha Rickman, this is a show about travelling in time with some allusions to the classic novel by H.G. Wells. However, instead of retelling the plot of the novel, it places a small audience in the middle of events.
You are moving across various rooms and halls in the library under the guidance of a Time Traveller, and discover different parts of his or her story. The character does not focus much on their life but rather point you towards generic ethical, social, and political questions. If humanity had a time machine, do they have a right to change the past and influence the future? Will our attitude towards nature and the planet cause the ultimate ecological catastrophe? Will social inequality only get worse over the course of time? Will humanity degrade due to technological inventions, such as AI and genome engineering? Raised by Wells for the first time over a century ago, these questions still puzzle us and make us feel uneasy with our decisions.
With the actors, we travel to a few different points in time. We follow their story about time disruptions that make the storytelling more inconsistent. There are gaps in the story that we need to cover ourselves, and there are hints that we receive too early to make any sense of them yet.
Overall, The Time Machine experience is very engaging. The journey through space and time feels intimate due to the small group size. The jokes work better and the storytelling goes more naturally as you can directly engage with the characters, accepting their strange rules. While the performance does not offer a lot of interactions, it is engaging enough to be considered a proper immersive experience. The usage of the space also helps a lot: from entrance instructions to the final summary, you stop at about 10 different rooms. Not only can you explore the great library, but you can also choose your own position, and become as close or distant to the actors as you want to be.
Special praise should be given to the light and sound designers. The play was written specifically for this location and requires minimum props or decoration. However, lights, projections on the walls, and sound effects help to create a mystical vibe and bring the right spirit of a sci-fi adventure.
While thought-provoking and engaging, the play feels a bit too iterated to follow or too complicated to listen to at some points. At some points, I found myself distracted by the books and artefacts of The London Library, paying more attention to space rather than to the text presented by actors. Still, the acting was charming and the direction felt creative.
I would recommend The Time Machine at The London Library if you like immersive experiences in unusual locations. But be prepared to take matters seriously and remember, the play was written last Autumn, even though some of the text feels all too familiar in the days of this unfolding Coronavirus pandemic.
The Time Machine runs at The London Library until 5th April.