This faithful telling based on Audrey Niffenegger’s novel and the New Line Cinema film is beautifully sensitive and heartbreaking.
I have to admit when I first heard that there was going to be a stage adaptation of The Time Traveller’s Wife (the book and film of which I both loved) I was initially quite sceptical – how could they bring this moving and complex story to life without losing the story’s spirit and emotional core? Now that I have seen it, it would be fair that the combination of Lauren Gunderson’s book and music and lyrics by Joss Stone and Dave Stewart work beautifully together to bring the story and characters to life.
The Time Traveller’s Wife follows the complex story of Henry and Clare, both who meet, fall in love and live their lives together – but with a twist: Henry is a time traveller who doesn’t know exactly when and where in time he will end up. While it would be easy to be confused in the constant switches in time that this poses to any theatre maker, as with Back to the Future the transitions are really smoothly handled at the hands of Bill Buckhurst’s production and show the developing relationship between the two central characters well.
Thanks to the cleverness of a combination of Anne Fleischele’s simple and cleverly revolving set design, Chris Fisher’s effective illusions (particularly for one scene in which Henry disappears off the balcony) and Andrzej Goulding’s detailed video design and animations, it is easy for the audience to immerse themselves into Henry and Clare’s evolving relationship. The scenes in which Henry meets Clare as a child, are very sweet and not at all sleazy and feel natural and believable.
It does have to be said that it would be wonderful if there were more lingering moments between Henry and Clare to really deepen the relationship further as some moments feel a little bit rushed through – however given the length of time the story covered it is perhaps not surprising. however, what I did appreciate about this stage adaptation and the book by Gunderson is the way in which it felt faithful to the book, including moments that weren’t featured in the film (for reasons unknown) and it really felt as though it is Clare’s story being told. The ending is particularly pleasing and emotional as it brings the whole story full circle and is heartbreaking.
With regards to the music and lyrics by Joss Stone and Dave Stewart (with additional music by Nick Finlow and additional lyrics by Kait Kerrigan), some might find it a little bit subtle and downbeat – but actually it reflects the story and characters really well. In particular, ‘Journey Man’, sung by Henry really highlights the emotional pain of the condition he has, ‘I’m in Control’ sung by Clare is really raw and filled with frustration of how Henry’s condition is impacting on her and her life, while ‘I See Her’ is a beautiful duet between Henry and his father highlighting their grief of losing a beloved mother and wife. The majority of the songs truly do deserve to have their place in the show and succeed in driving the story and emotions felt by each character perfectly.
Through the performances of the cast, the story is beautifully and sensitively brought to life. At the centre of it all, Joanna Woodward as Clare is exuberant, passionate and a compelling character to watch develop over the course of the show – she truly embodies this character with great thoughtfulness, particularly the tricker aspects of Clare’s relationship with Henry become clear. Meanwhile, David Hunter as Henry really highlights the pain, loneliness and isolation that Henry feels about constantly travelling through time and not being able to stay in places as long as he would like. But as mentioned earlier, it would have been lovely to have a few more lingering moments to really develop the chemistry a bit more. There is excellent support from other members of the cast – in particular from Tim Mahendran as Gomez and Hiba Elchikhe as Charisse, providing some light comical relief, while showcasing the bond between the four friends perfectly (the scene in which Henry and Clare dine with them is a particular highlight). Special mention should also go to Ross Dawes as Henry’s father who certainly deserved more stage time in showing that father and son relationship that was put under strain due to grief.
Overall, there is much to be admired about this stage adaptation and the way in which it seems to focus more on the book as a source of inspiration – sensitive story telling and thoughtful music and lyrics really bring the story to life. The only real flaw is that it just needs to slow down in terms of pace and let a few of the more poignant moments have a chance to breathe to make the story really take flight. Just like Henry and Clare’s relationship – a few flaws but beautiful nevertheless.
By Emma Clarendon