“Can we do this thing?”: An interview with Natasha Rickman

Loosely based on H.G. Wells’s classic novel, Creation Theatre’s The Time Machine: A Virtual Reality is a piece of theatre that has 2020 written all over it. A zany and thought-provoking eleganzoom extravaganzoom, the show is simultaneously set in your own living room or kitchen, and in a vast, strange multiverse where “the present is endlessly shifting and the future is strange and uncertain,” and where time travellers “tinker with timelines causing people’s names, faces and indeed the colour of their socks to change without warning.” 

We were lucky enough to be joined by director Natasha Rickman for a deep dive into the process of creation and re-creation. Beyond the original site-specific production of The Time Machine, and this new version reimagined for the digital stage, Natasha’s directing credits also include Twelfth Night (Rose Bankside), Rhino (Kings Head), Hilda and Virginia (Jermyn Street), Honour (The Royal Court), and as associate director, A Little Night Music (Storyhouse), Shirley Valentine (Bury St Edmunds), Comedy of Errors (RSC), and Romeo and Juliet (The Globe). Natasha is also an artistic associate at Jermyn Street Theatre and co-founder of Women@RADA

You may also like to check out an earlier guest post by Time Machine playwright Jonathan Holloway, and Vector’s review of the original production of The Time Machine at the London Library. The Time Machine: A Virtual Reality is playing till 21 June. 

The Time Machine Natasha Rickman
Natasha Rickman

Hi Natasha, thanks so much for speaking with Vector. Are you hearing me OK? My internet’s been a bit funny recently.

Yeah, hopefully we’ll be lucky. My internet’s been actually great the whole time I’ve been making the show, and then just recently it’s like it knows the show is open and it’s just doing its own thing now …

So I guess that’s my first question! When you’re creating a remote theatrical experience like The Time Machine … how do you deal with people’s internets being a bit funny?

It’s definitely one of the challenges of the show. All of the performers are in their living rooms or bedrooms, performing in a variety of locations around the country with varying levels of wi-fi reliability. And yes, performers do sometimes get thrown out of the call. They’ll break up, or their microphone will go. We’ve literally had them be chucked out of a call for a couple of minutes before. 

So we’ve had to create a variety of back-up plans. For example, we’ve got some pre-recorded video which only gets shown if people are having sound issues. We’ve also got a thing called parallel reality. The part of the Time Traveller is played by multiple people. That means if one actor needs to jump and take over, they can shout “Parallel reality!” and do that. We actually had a version of that in the original show as well.

Perhaps the material lends itself somewhat to the uncertainties of the medium? The Time Machine is already about a kind of glitching, melting reality.

Yes, definitely. Jonathan has imagined this world where suddenly you can change where you are, or you can change who you are. Another thing we use is what we call elastic content. That’s content that only happens if it’s needed in the show. We have a piece of elastic content in case someone gets thrown out of a call. It’s a scene that could happen at any time. Basically, there’s a whole load of backup material that only makes it into the show if something goes wrong.

It must be challenging to create scene that can happen at any point. Continue reading ““Can we do this thing?”: An interview with Natasha Rickman”

Jonathan Holloway’s The Time Machine

With H.G. Wells’s classic and hugely influential work The Time Machine celebrating its 125th anniversary, Creation Theatre has teamed up with Jonathan Holloway, The London Library, and a host of consultant scientists and experts from The Wellcome Trust, to create an immersive theatrical experience inspired by Wells’s work. The Time Machine is on Wednesday through Sunday till the 5th of April at The London Library, with a future run taking place in Oxford. We asked playwright Jonathan Holloway to reflect on his process for Vector. Here’s what he had to say … 

Jonathan Holloway in The London Library.jpg
Jonathan Holloway

Creation’s production of THE TIME MACHINE at the London Library is billed as an ‘adaptation’. That’s not really quite what it is. When I was asked to do it, I hadn’t re-read the book for more than forty years, and on doing so, my heart sank.  There isn’t really enough story to allow for an ‘adaptation’ as such. To make something that was going to be worthwhile, the task needed a different approach. The original is basically a yarn about a man who builds a time machine in his conservatory, travels forwards in time, finds the human race has evolved into two halves, one of which lives underground and eats those who live on the surface, then travels back to the present appalled by what he found. The theatre can’t do what a movie can – it doesn’t present ‘actuality’, instead it’s about a collusive relationship with the audience which forefronts ideas. We don’t necessarily ‘show’ it, we describe it, and you create the pictures in your head.  

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On the set of The Time Machine (Photo by Richard Budd)

Creation Theatre Company put me in touch with the Wellcome Centre in Oxford and I visited on several occasions, meeting scientists, philosophers and ethicists, and hearing what they had to say about the future – over roughly the next fifty years. So, inspired – as it were – by H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE, I penned a journey through the labyrinth of the iconic London Library, where the author was a member, and imagined a future in which time travel has generated thousands of parallel universes.  Effectively, I rather unceremoniously pulled apart this classic sci-fi novel, re-invented it, and pieced it back together to create a world in which the present is endlessly shifting, and the future is strange and uncertain. Travellers have tinkered with timelines causing people’s names, faces and indeed the colour of their socks to change without warning.  It is a very ‘theatrical’ evening which requires that we suspend our disbelief and enter into the fanciful creation of an alien dramatic world. Humour sits alongside appalling predictions. It’s a hybrid kind-of show wherein dramatic situations surrender ground to an event that alternates between being a play and something approximating to a TED talk. The script was pretty much done by the end of October, but alarmingly some of the material that seemed farfetched back then concerning climate change and the possible threat of pandemics has subsequently appeared on our TV’s in the form of Australian wild-fires and the spread of Coronavirus. Wells has offered myself and Creation an opportunity to work the fantasy of time travel into a theatrical event that now sometimes feels more like a documentary.

The audience are divided into groups, each of which is accompanied by a time travelling guide.  This character bears more than a passing resemblance to Wells’ protagonist – The Time Traveller –  and s/he leads our groups through the wonderfully atmospheric interior of the London Library, where they meet other characters, see projected images and listen to recorded speech as if it’s leaking from the many thousands of books on the shelves. The logistics of a show like this are themselves mind-bending. Each group will see the same show, but staggered, as they process in series from room to room. Each group must be kept separate from the others. It’s a theatrical Rubric’s Cube which, thank Heavens, is organised by a wonderful director called Natasha Rickman.

Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE remains one of the great science fiction novels of all time. In this production we have to demonstrate how important a thinker like Wells is to the fabric of how we see ourselves, the purpose we find in existence and what we bequeath to our children. So, I’d ask you please to leave your preconceptions at the door. Yes, you will receive something of Well’s brown furniture and tobacco-soaked club-land atmospherics … but more importantly, we hope you may feel a connection being made between the socialist author and today’s activists.

Personally I can’t believe my luck as I add THE TIME MACHINE to a list of adaptations of great science fiction I have done for the theatre and the BBC including Alfred Bester’s TIGER TIGER, Philip K. Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP, Waugh’s BRAVE NEW WORLD and Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR.

SF Theatre: The Phlebotomist

 

The Phlebotomist

Science fiction theatre at Hampstead Downstairs, London.

Bea meets Aaron. He’s intelligent, handsome, makes her laugh and, most importantly, has a high rating on his genetic profile. What’s not to like?

Char is on the brink of landing her dream job and has big plans to start a family – but her blood rating threatens it all.

In a world where future happiness depends on a single, inescapable blood test – which dictates everything from credit rating to dating prospects – how far will people go to beat the system and let nature take its course?

 

Apparently, some of the technologies that The Phlebotomist presupposes are already here, it was disconcerting noticing the Tube ad for a blood testing company called Medichecks right after seeing the play:

medichecks2