The Time Traveller’s Wife | Live Show Review

Scott Matthewman
Thursday, February 29, 2024

Musically, Stewart and Stone’s numbers are quality pop songs and never feel inappropriate to the book, but nor do they feel as tightly integrated as they could be

David Hunter as Henry in The Time Traveller's Wife the Musical (photo: Johan Persson)
David Hunter as Henry in The Time Traveller's Wife the Musical (photo: Johan Persson)

Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 debut novel The Time Traveler’s Wife took the science fiction premise of a man who randomly and involuntarily jumps through time and paired it with a romance with the woman whose life he always seemed to jump into. Writers often play with time to offer us slices of a relationship out of chronological order, but usually the lovers are at least in step with each other. For Henry and Clare, that is a luxury denied to them.

The novel’s themes of predestination and the quest for a soulmate are not uncommon in Musical Theatre. And so the novel finds itself, after film and TV adaptations, hitting the stage with a book by Lauren Gunderson and songs by Joss Stone and Dave Stewart. In the process, it gains a British spelling to become The Time Traveller’s Wife, but the American setting and accents remain.

Joanna Woodward’s portrayal of Clare anchors the narrative, yet David Hunter’s Henry is equally central. Hunter brings a relatable warmth to Henry, essential for countering any ickiness when the character finds himself interacting with a 10-year-old Clare. Given that these interactions are what cause Clare to fall in love with Henry, they need a delicate portrayal to avoid impressions of grooming; Gunderson’s writing and Hunter’s gentle charisma do their best to provide that.

Any sense of romance is down to the chemistry between Hunter and Woodward

Musically, Stewart and Stone’s numbers are quality pop songs and never feel inappropriate to the book, but nor do they feel as tightly integrated as they could be. It seems that the songwriting pair is most comfortable when writing adjacent to the narrative rather than within it. This is most notable in ‘Journeyman’, Hunter’s first solo in Act Two. Front and rear projections are used to convey the sense of travelling in time from Henry’s point of view; black-clad dancers helping Hunter fly through the air as projected duplicates do the same.

Despite it feeling out of kilter with the rest of the show, it’s an impressive presentation that highlights the show’s technical skill. Projections and digital backdrops are used heavily throughout, cleverly transforming Anna Fleischle’s ever-revolving plain, brutalist slabs with textures and colours to portray a multitude of settings. They also allow Henry’s arrivals and departures to be accompanied by intense bursts of white-hot energy. Henry’s disappearances are often occasioned by Hunter running offstage, leaving a flurry of digital sparks in his wake; but more than once, he disappears or reappears on stage. Chris Fisher’s illusions ensure a genuine sense of wonder at how that could have been accomplished.

Woodward matches Hunter for charm, despite a role which is largely reactive. The most fun she – or any of us – has is with her old schoolmates Charisse and Gomez, played with bucketloads of appeal by Hiba Elchikhe and Tim Mahendran. They inject necessary humour into the potentially overly sweet narrative. But by the nature of the premise, the story is inevitably fragmentary in places. Only in the second act, when we get longer of periods of time with the couple in the same time zone, do we finally get some meaty looks at the pair’s relationship. But with that comes a loss of the pizzazz that defined Act One.

The original novel allowed us much more into both characters’ shoes, imagining their situation and heightening proceedings accordingly. There is less space for us to do that here, denying the musical any opportunity to feel as profound or as deep as it believes itself to be. Any sense of romance in its story comes down to the chemistry between Hunter and Woodward.

But anyone with even the slightest romantic heart will find themselves leaving the theatre wanting to be with their loved ones – for like Clare, none of us know how much time we have left with them.

Production credits

Joss Stone, Dave Stewart music, lyrics

Nick Finlow additional music

Kait Kerrigan additional lyrics

Lauren Gunderson book

Cast David Hunter, Joanna Woodward, Tim Mahendran, Hiba Elchikhe, Ross Dawes, Sorelle Marsh, Alwyne Taylor, Irfan Damani et al

Direction Bill Buckhurst

Musical direction Katherine Woolley

Musical supervision Nick Finlow

Orchestrations Malcolm Edmonstone

Choreography Shelley Maxwell

Set Anna Fleischle

Lighting Rory Beaton, Lucy Carter

Sound Richard Brooker

Video Andrzej Goulding

Illusions Chris Fisher

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of Musicals magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today