Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Natasha Rickman: The Time Machine

By | Published on Friday 29 May 2020

Long ago – in the dim and distant past before the lockdown – Creation Theatre began a run at the London Library of their immersive and intriguing adaptation of HG Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’.

Sadly, it was cut short by COVID, but the good news is that the show has been adapted again for another unusual performance space – this time for the medium of Zoom. So you can look forward to an exciting and involving show from the comfort of your own home.

I love anything about time travel, so of course I was interested in this. I spoke to director Natasha Rickman about the show and the challenges of bringing it to this new medium.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the content of ‘The Time Machine’? What story does it tell and what themes does it address?
NR: ‘The Time Machine’ is based on the story by HG Wells. In the original, a time traveller tells his guests about his journey into the future using a time machine he has invented. In our adaptation, our time travellers journey with our audience to the 1940s, Studio 54 and 2300 – all on a quest to save the future of the human race. The predictions are taken from conversations that the writer Jonathan had with the Wellcome Centre For Ethics And Humanities about predictions they made back in autumn 2019.

CM: If the lockdown hadn’t happened the show would have been performed at the London Library, wouldn’t it? Can you tell us a bit about what kind of performance that would have been?
NR: We got about a week into the run at the library. As well as being site specific, small groups of 25 audience members set off every 20 minutes with a different time traveller – so the show existed in different timelines at once.

CM: So, in these interesting times, how will the show be performed? Can you explain on a technical level what to expect?
NR: When our audience log into the Zoom call they will be catapulted into a journey with a time traveller who can shape shift and is on a mission to save the world. Everything you need to know about using Zoom to watch the show is explained by the Time Traveller’s companion, The Computer, at the start. There is no need for technical know-how!

The show does take place across different digital rooms – telling the same story in parallel but with different twists – you will sometimes be offered invitations and if you click accept will fall into a parallel timeline!

CM: In what ways will this be different to the in-person show you would have staged? Will the content be different? The approach?
NR: This digital medium allows us to time travel anywhere with the click of a button – so we are travelling even further across time in this version of the show. We were keen to honour the predictions that were made in Autumn last year, so the content remains the same largely – but we now offer the audience parallel timelines for some scenes if they are chosen at random, and the option to choose their own ending.

CM: What challenges have you met with in adapting the show to this medium?
NR: This is a full production in that it has full costumes, virtual sets, lighting rigs and soundscapes, film and digital filters. Zoom is set up for conferences rather than for theatre, so our amazing creative and technical team have been innovating ways to adapt the platform to perform as we need it to. For the actors this is a brand new combination of performing for both stage and screen at the same time.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your cast?
NR: We have a fantastic cast of seven, but they perform in two different combinations which mean there are even more variations of what our audience might see on any given night. They are an incredibly creative cast and a tight ensemble, and have backgrounds in dance, street theatre, immersive work and improvisation, as well as having a wealth of credits in theatre and film. They are performing together every night even though they are spread across Wales, Birmingham, London and Suffolk.

CM: What other personnel are involved in bringing this to fruition, and how have their jobs changed under these circumstances?
NR: Our designer Ryan is now working entirely with digital sets and how to make the actors look and move realistically in these spaces. To do this he has worked closely with lighting designer Ash, who has remotely created bespoke lighting designs for each actor using a combination of lights found from around their home and equipment he has sent to them.

Our sound designer Matt has built an entire show soundtrack and set up the operating system, and then come up with clever ways to circumnavigate the Zoom platform to allow us to run it all. Stage manager Judith is doing an amazing thing – running two shows which are happening simultaneously in different digital rooms and which she is watching across two monitors – an incredible feat!

And production manager Giles has somehow managed to bring all of these technical elements together whilst also managing to keep everyone from slipping into parallel realities.

CM: Has being forced to work this way forced you to be extra creative, do you think?
NR: I think so. There is something really beautiful about watching someone use a bedside light to create an atmospheric alleyway, or using a sequence of flat backgrounds to create the illusion we are following someone through a building, even though they are walking on the spot in their front room!

But Creation are great at that – Lucy who runs the company and Crissy the producer of this show are constantly creating, innovating and playing – we’ve had several production meetings with Lucy turning into cartoon bunnies or pencil drawings of herself while she experiments with the tech!

This playful approach has allowed us to find amazing things that have made it into the final show.

CM: Tell us a bit about you, now: what made you want a career in the arts and how did you make your way into it?
NR: My mum is an actress and so I always had an interest in the theatre. For many years I wanted to just be in the musical ‘Cats’ – and only ‘Cats’. Forever! But at the grand old age of eleven it turned out I probably wasn’t good enough to be a professional dancer – so I ventured into my local youth theatre group at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, Essex and never looked back.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
NR: I’m currently writing something and have a couple of theatre projects which have been postponed that I’m desperate to get back into. My ambition at the moment is to keep creating work, as well as doing what I can to raise awareness to help the arts get the support they deserve in order to survive these turbulent times.

My favourite thing about this show is that I can see audience members before the show, during certain moments of the journey, and at the curtain call, and although it is digital there is still that sense of togetherness you get from watching live theatre.

CM: What would you have been doing now if we weren’t in lockdown?
NR: I was due to direct ‘Antigone’ for Storyhouse which is the most brilliant building in Chester – it has, of course, been postponed, but in lockdown I’ve contributed an online story to their programme of content.

CM: What have you been doing in lockdown to stay sane?
NR: Going for walks and getting some sun on my skin. Speaking to my amazing support network. And balancing stimulating things, like making theatre, with guilty pleasures like watching ‘Dinner Date’!

‘The Time Machine’ is performed via Zoom Wed-Sun until 21 Jun. See this page here for all the information and to book.

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