Monday, 10 July 2017

The Time Dramaturgy: Elton Townend Jones @ Edfringe 2017

The Time Machine

Dyad Productions
Written and directed by Elton Townend Jones   Performed by Stephen Cunningham
Produced by Rebecca Vaughan

Assembly Roxy Upstairs, Aug 3-28 (not 15) 11:10 (90 mins)

From the creators of Austen’s Women, Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, Dalloway, The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe, Female Gothic, I, Elizabeth, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, and Christmas Gothic.

In this age of uncertainty, where shadows of tyranny, intolerance, and war darken the narrative of human progress, how much time does humanity have left?  If civilisation fell today, what would become of us?  

Rebecca Vaughan presents Elton Townend Jones's topical and incisive re-invention of HG Wells’s classic, as a Victorian explorer travels across the ages into tomorrow, discovering the fate of our endeavours and uncovering our darkest fears…  From the fall of man to the end of the world, this is the story of us all. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The Brexit referendum result and the Trump election - all of which I knew, as the play's author, were going to happen; it was in the wind.  It was in the air as I walked out to the local shops.  As much as people said 'it won't happen', it just seemed obvious that it would.  Whether or not we should leave the EU, whether or not the Great Orange Morlock should be the figurehead of the free world, it's become clear that a great many people have stopped listening to experts, listening to the needs of others, listening to the potential consequences of climate change and so on, and so on.  

It seems that the great mass of people in the West have become more introverted, less caring, greedier and more selfish.  Where does this go?  Where does this take us?  We'd wanted to adapt The Time Machine for many years, but this seemed the best time to do so; to take HG Wells' original (then new/current) investigation into notions of social Darwinism and look at what we know now - what he didn't know - and say, what would this mean now?  

How does this fit?  Where are we going in 2017 that we weren't in 1895?  The answer's pretty much the same: decline and fall, but the reasons - beautifully vague in Wells' original - are both different and yet clearer.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

We certainly believe so.  Our form is and
has mostly been the solo show (previous works: Austen's WomenDalloway,Jane Eyre: An AutobiographyThe Unremarkable Death of Marilyn MonroeFemale GothicI, ElizabethChristmas Gothic and our two-hander The Diaries of Adam and Eve).  This form is the perfect platform for a kind of storytelling that is personal and intimate, exciting and exhilarating, emotional and intellectual, but also capable of investigating contemporarily relevant themes of politics and philosophy without getting too partisan or soapboxy.

How did you become interested in making performance?

We became interested as children and young people, reading and learning; through teachers and through our passion for literature in particular; we are both philosophy and literature graduates who apply our thirst for knowledge and our love of books and films and music to the work we create.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

Sit down for several months and create an honest script that investigates all the themes and ideas we want to express, then spend several weeks building a show out of it - attempting to retain an honesty and sincerity throughout.  Keep it simple, clear and unfussy.  I often refer to what we create as 'every man's land', as our intention is to open the stage to the audience by sparking an almost impressionist idea of the fiction in their minds and asking them to bring their imaginations to the work. 

In the past, we've had our leading female performer in a beautifully designed frock playing men in dinner suits - and the audience have left utterly convinced that that's exactly what they saw.  We are theatre-makers, but I also believe that we are magicians.  Fabulists and magicians.  And the audience has the biggest part to play in that. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It continues a long line of literary adaptations.  We would like to create more original work in the vein of The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe and I, Elizabeth, but we - Rebecca Vaughan and Elton Townend Jones - run the company ourselves: generating our own funding, utterly and freely independent; a genuinely successful business model, touring continually across the UK and the world.  

That success, however, means we like to generate a brand-new product every year (this is our ninth year and our ninth with Assembly).  This demand for new work has meant we create more adaptations than new work (which takes longer, due to being research intensive).  This is no easy feat, however.  Last year's Jane Eyre: An Autobiography saw us reduce a 300-page novel to 18 pages for performance by one person - that nearly killed me as a writer - but it was our biggest success so far.  

The Time Machine, however, is a much slimmer novel, but this is perhaps the most re-imagined and fully re-interpreted of all our adaptations.  And this time our lead actor is a man, the brilliant Stephen Cunningham who was born to play this role; part Doctor Who, part Hamlet, part David Bowie.  We're aware we have a following that adores Rebecca Vaughan, our regular lead (and producer of this show), but Dyad needs to expand now and offer productions featuring new performers as well as Rebecca.  

We hope audiences will join us in this transition - just as they did with the immensely successful Marilyn play (published by Samuel French) - it's still the same great quality of performance, and the same director, writer, lighting and sound teams and so on.  

We're moving forward, expanding now.  We hope our audience will join us.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We want the audience to be entertained by a story that's not merely a work of science-fiction.  The themes in the book and perhaps even more so in the play are incredibly relevant to our current situation in the West.  We hope that these themes will resonate with how they - and, indeed, we - engage with the world; what it is we put into the world to make it a better place for not only ourselves and those we love but those we don't know.  

We want to give affirmation to those who are doing their bit, and hopefully also open a few eyes to what ignorance, intolerance and indolence on our part might mean for those that come after us.  It strikes me that being here, on what is probably the only world that's managed to support life, should be about nothing more than building a co-operative and successful future that benefits all mankind and the creatures he shares the planet with.  

We hope the audience will feel the need to make some little effort towards avoiding a horrible dystopia that, to me, seems only a few wrong steps away.  Like all our work, this entertainment is but a mirror.

Dyad Productions creates, produces and tours classic theatre with an innovative and contemporary emphasis.  This stage adaptation of HG Wells’s classic novel is Dyad’s ninth original production in as many years, and premieres at Assembly Edinburgh in August 2017.  

Previous works, Austen’s Women and I, Elizabeth were five-star successes at Edinburgh and Adelaide in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, with The Diaries of Adam and EveFemale GothicThe Unremarkable Death of Marilyn MonroeDalloway and Jane Eyre: An Autobiography garnering five-star reviews at Edinburgh between 2011-2016.  

All nine Dyad plays continue to tour across the UK and internationally, while Austen’s Women returned to Edinburgh in 2013 for another highly acclaimed five-star run, as did I, Elizabeth in 2015.  The Diaries of Adam and Eve was published in 2013 (by StageScripts) and The Unremarkable Death of Monroe in 2016 (by Samuel French).  Austen’s Women returns to Edinburgh once again this year – for 9 shows only – alongside The Time Machine.  Dyad Productions is Rebecca Vaughan and Elton Townend Jones. 

The Time Machine is written and directed by Elton Townend Jones (writer/director: Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, DallowayThe Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe, director: Christmas Gothic, writer/performer: The Diaries of Adam and Evecreative producer: Austen’s Women, I, Elizabeth).  It is produced by Rebecca Vaughan (writer/performer: Austen’s Women, Female GothicChristmas GothicI, Elizabeth, performer: Jane Eyre:  An AutobiographyDalloway, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, producer: The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe).  It is performed by Stephen Cunningham.  Costume by Kate Flanaghan (DallowayI, ElizabethFemale GothicChristmas GothicAusten’s Women).  Lighting design by Martin Tucker (Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, Christmas GothicI, ElizabethDallowayThe Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe).  Sound design by Danny Bright (Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, DallowayChristmas Gothic).

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