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The Time Traveller's Wife - Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue

Not every musical has to be entirely sung through, of course, but there were moments in this stage adaptation of The Time Traveller’s Wife when I wondered why on earth they had even bothered making this into a musical. It either needs substantial reworking or have the songs excised from it altogether (which is also substantial reworking, to be fair) – the most poignant moments are during spoken dialogue, the most emotionally charged moments are during spoken dialogue, and the story moves forward (and, given that it’s about time travel, backwards as well) largely through spoken dialogue.

The musical numbers, for what they’re worth, mostly serve to reinforce what has already been said. Some of the songs demonstrate the cast’s talents – Joanna Woodward’s Clare and Tim Mahendran’s Gomez were the standouts, vocally speaking, for me. But take the songs all out, and maybe satisfy drama schools’ seemingly insatiable desire to use songs as spoken monologues by repurposing a couple of musical numbers thus, and voila! A short and sweet play.

As it is, things are kept relatively slick thanks to a combination of video projections and a stage revolve, while Henry (David Hunter) goes through an extraordinary number of costume changes during the evening. Given the show’s title, one might have reasonably expected the time traveller Henry to be a secondary character to the time traveller’s wife Clare. Oh no. It’s all about Henry, his comings and goings, his escapades, his hunger that Clare must satisfy on demand – time travel consumes a lot of calories, apparently – and his taking actions that substantially affect both him and Clare without informing, let alone consulting, her first.

The time travel effects are impressive on occasion (although most of the time, frankly, Henry walks off), especially in a late scene that doesn’t even involve Henry. For whatever reason, Henry’s clothes do not travel with him when he does, but the production more often than not glosses over the details of how he manages to avoid being arrested for indecent exposure. Clare is advised against marrying Henry, even by Henry himself, who warns that being married to a time traveller does not grant one powers to time travel oneself, so she’ll be on her own for indeterminate periods of, um, time. Fair enough.

Ultimately, however, it’s far from a watertight narrative, either scientifically or emotionally. It is unreasonable to expect a show to answer every ‘what if’ and ‘what about’ scenario that arises from the ability to time travel. But I trust it isn’t too unreasonable to want to come away with more answers than questions – and, I’m sorry to say, I did not. The act two opener, ‘Journeyman’, is visually astonishing, for reasons that would be too much of a spoiler to regurgitate, but does nothing to advance the narrative.

Adult Henry meets Clare as a child (Ava Critchell at the performance I attended, sharing the role with Lily Hanna, Poppy Pawson and Holly-Jade Roberts) on several occasions – make of that what you will. Invariably, once a scene gets going it’s time for it to get gone, which means the show never dwells on anything for very long. A time travel show, almost by definition, just isn’t going to be in forward chronological order, at least not from start to finish. I fully accept there’s an element of confusion in this regard, but even so, it wasn’t always easy keeping up with it all. The time traveller himself occasionally asking Clare to back up and slow down was mildly reassuring.

And, goodness me, it’s a bleak show: cancer affects one character, alcoholism another, and at some point, because, y’know, it’s set in America, there’s a gunshot. I wanted to discover more about the time traveller’s wife. After all, isn’t that what the show is called? The Time Traveller’s Wife? Oh well.

Two stars

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