You’d think being a time traveller would come with all sorts of advantages, but as we learn in The Time Traveller’s Wife: The Musical it’s not just as easy as knowing the winning lottery numbers before the draw has taken place. This new musical, which had a run in Chester last year now makes its West End debut at London’s Apollo Theatre.
It’s based on the wildly popular novel by Audrey Niffenegger, which has already been made into a film and also a TV series. Now it comes to us in musical form, directed by Bill Buckhurst. The addition of songs to a familiar story certainly ramps up the emotional tension and Joss Stone and Dave Stewart’s heady mix of ballads and uplifting anthems makes us all the more engaged.
By West End standards there are relatively few songs, but the whole thing is bookended by the two best numbers; ‘Masterpiece’ at the beginning of act one, and the finale, ‘Love Wins The Day’. You may not come out humming any of the tunes, but they definitely all work in the context of the story being told.
That story can get a little confusing, as can be the case with anything involving multiple timelines. A mild mannered librarian named Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to involuntarily travel through time. We start with him meeting his soon to be wife, Clare, a paper artist who already knows who he is, because an older Henry has been travelling back in time and visiting her since she was a child – it’s not as creepy as it may sound.
Moving forward from this point we discover how the pair cope with the ever-disappearing Henry and the strain it puts on their marriage. It is perhaps a metaphor for failed relationships, and although none of us will ever experience the exact same scenario, it definitely resonates on a number of different levels.
If you’ve read the book, or seen the screen adaptations, you might wonder how on earth this story can be told on stage, and the answer is it can, and quite spectacularly at that. Thanks to Chris Fisher’s illusions this is a truly magical piece of theatre that will leave audiences gasping in wonderment. Henry’s disappearances and reappearances are always surprising, in a good way, and Anna Fleischle’s set works hard to continually transform itself.
Video design and animation also plays a big part, most notably at the top of act two with ‘Journeyman’, another of the song highlights, but also a visual spectacle as a result of Andrzej Goulding’s incredible projections.
The Time Traveller’s Wife benefits from a strong cast; Hiba Elchikhe and Tim Mahendran are the perfect double act as Clare’s friends Charisse and Gomez, while Ross Dawes pulls a few emotional punches as Henry’s Dad.
Joanna Woodward delivers a flawless performance as Clare, and really shines in the solo numbers. Woodward has a fantastic chemistry with on-stage husband Henry, played with genuine feeling by David Hunter, who puts in one hell of a shift in this show – it’s an energetic and unrelenting performance that’s a joy to watch unfold.
It would be difficult to describe this as a feel-good musical, and it leans more towards being contemplative and honest, especially in the second act which does feel a little slower in places. But at the same time it does elicit a real sense of excitement because of the manner in which it’s staged; Bill Buckhurst hasn’t cut any corners here, as the number of costume changes will confirm.
Fans of the book will not be disappointed by The Time Traveller’s Wife: The Musical, it’s a real homage to the source material and brings to life the heart of the story in an astonishing way. It may just have opened, but it already feels like a timeless classic that’s just magical to watch.