I have to admit I do love the works of H.G Wells. Without dwelling on his literacy catalogue too much here, the vision in the writings of the man astound even today. When it comes to his work: The Time Machine, I am a sucker. The 1960’s movie starring Australian Rod Taylor is one of my favourites (it won an Oscar for best special effects), and the more recent film incarnation featuring (another Aussie) Guy Pearce is worth the nod, notwithstanding the obvious deviation from the original plot.
Perhaps lesser known, but no less compelling is Mark Lee’s one man performance of The Time Machine (adapted by Frank Gauntlett ), in no way under described as a tour-de-force. The current season running at the Old 505 Theatre at Surry Hills, is not Lee’s first in the role, which he debuted in 2000, but the performance is no less compelling, enthralling and engaging. Over 90 minutes, Lee plays The Traveller, recounting the story of his 8 days in the future to members of the audience who are drawn into the performance as if they were visitors to the traveller’s own living room at the turn of the 20th Century.
With a minimum of props, but accompanied by dramatic lighting, Lee propels himself through the gamut of emotions ranging from love, despair and sometimes madness. Mark Lee is a technically fine actor, to the point where watching him makes you wonder where the man ends and the character begins.
To start the performance, the traveller appears regaled in fine late nineteenth century garb, immaculately groomed and confident. Disappearing back stage for 90 seconds, the traveller reappears, dishevelled, shaken and apprehensive about the ordeal he is about to recount.
This is beyond theatre of the mind, and is telling of Sydney’s theatre heart that is often missed or overlooked by the mainstream audience. The journey actually starts, not when the actor first appears on stage, but when first arriving at the venue. Anyone aware of Hibernian House near Sydney’s Central railway station might be aware of its grand façade, but it houses what must be Sydney’s most eclectic collection of fringe artists and creative thinkers. An unassuming doorway, missed by the quick walker along Elizabeth Street, leads to the building’s foyer, ravaged by free thinking urban art (read: Graffiti). It is confronting to the unexpectant visitor.
Wandering along the hall, the interior of the lift to level 5 (where the theatre is located) is similarly violated. Pushing aside thoughts of this being a slum, following the signs to the theatre, you could be forgiven of thinking you are in the wrong place. The common property is not salubrious, not maintained as one might expect.
But this is the realm of performance and art. Common concepts are put aside in this landscape where journeys only ever begin and never end.
The Time Machine performed by Mark Lee reminds us about human nature, about segregation and about how times have never really changed since Wells put pen to paper (nor in the future) when it comes to how human beings view each other and their order in life. Apart from witnessing a superb performance, you come away reflecting on society today, which is exactly what Wells intended.
The Time Machine
Directed by Gareth Boylan
Starring Mark Lee
Old 505 Theatre-
505, 342 Elizabeth St Surry Hills
Wednesday 20- Saturday 23 June, 8pm
Sunday 24 June, 7pm
Wednesday 27- Saturday 30 June, 8pm
Sunday 1 July, 7pm
Tickets: $25/15 available via Moshtix.
Doors: open 1/2 hour prior to performance