Stuart King

Review: THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE at Apollo Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue

The 2003 surprise bestseller by unlucky-in-love novelist Audrey Niffenegger provides the basis for Dave Stewart and Joss Stone’s musical treatment. By necessity the plot-line is erratic and segmented, but whilst the production is far from mind-blowing, it has a great deal to commend it, helped by some studious tweaking and truncating of the source material by playwright Lauren Gunderson.

The Time Traveller's Wife at the Apollo Theatre The Time Traveller's Wife at the Apollo Theatre.

The power and vocal gymnastics provided by Joanna Woodward (throughout, but particularly in Clare’s second half belter I’m in Control) lift many of the overwritten tunes which would oftentimes have benefited from a more exposed and simplistic treatment. David Hunter as Henry the unwilling time traveller who suffers from a chrono-genetic disorder causing him to flit in and out of Clare’s life, executes the part with an almost glib matter-of-factness, which certainly helps pace but does little to make him either endearing or especially interesting in the role.

Part-way through the second half, realisation dawns that we have never seen Henry older than his early 40s and the narrative jerks inexorably to a New Year’s Eve party juxtaposed with a woodland hunting accident. Such a transition would ordinarily be an audience’s cue to rummage for tissues, but this production induces a stoic resistance to tears and instead there is a fleeting look to the future through the eyes of the protagonists’ daughter who has apparently inherited her father’s questionable gift.

The strong but underused supporting cast includes a delightfully larger-than-life comic turn by Tim Mahendran as over-protective Gomez, with Hiba Elchikhe as Charisse and Ross Dawes as Henry’s father. Bill Buckhurst has directed the show with gusto on a relatively small stage which benefits from a frenetic revolve and copious projections deployed by the design team to realise the story’s various elements and periods.

Everyone works hard to bring the yarn to life and clearly a lot of love and heart has gone into the project, but despite some near-magical moments and neatly executed stage tricks, the whole never quite manages to elevate itself into anything especially memorable, original or emotionally engaging, which seems rather a pity given the exceptional writing talents involved. Definitely worth a watch but don’t expect your heart-strings to be tugged.