Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The First Time Machine

Run Ragged Productions , Chapter, Cardiff , January-24-14
The First Time Machine by  Run Ragged Productions Step right up… Step right up…! The Treays brothers exort us to step right up and witness their new show designed for family audiences. What will it be we wonder? A musical, a play, a dance or a multi-media digital installation cornucopia of delights? As the family audience crowd into the small Chapter theatre, the well-known dancer and Chapter personality, Jem Treays strides around the auditorium greeting friends, family and children with cheery hellos, offering warm words of welcome to the crowd. The stage is littered with the debris of a multitude of items including victoriana tables chairs, maps, globes and books all lit by a set of soft, orange glow-lights and with musician Greg Hall sitting quietly in a corner producing music to match the occasion. It’s a congenial setting which warms the crowd up nicely.

Enjoying being the solo centre of attention, brother Jem begins a smooth, precise warm-up dance solo which we are invited ‘to not watch’ which is interrupted when his real life brother, Aiden Treays arrives ‘late’ and the real show begins. We are told of the brothers’ search to uncover the story of their Grandfather, Enrique Gaspar who wrote the first time travel book in 1881. As the production unpacks, we begin to hear the unfolding story of the history of two brothers sharing family memories, unpicking family mythologies from near forebears all the way back to Grandfather Gaspar.

One running gag through the show sees brother Jem working against brother Aiden, using the musician, Hall as an excuse to get more stage time and to be the star of the show. Jem is clearly a talented older brother, but is restless and hungry to be at the centre of the action. Shrugging it off with dignity and self-assurance brother Aiden easily holds his own and in an elegant and polished dance showing fine beauty and strength in arms and torso, he performs a short but captivating flamenco solo that illuminates his past as a professional dancer in a Spanish dance group.

Multiple time-travel expeditions are staged enabling the brothers to ramble back over the last 150 years and to visit an assortment of aunties, children, parents and even their own younger selves. More than a search for Grandfather Enrique, the show is really about the two brothers working through their own relationships and their memories of growing up together. The relationship is portrayed in unsentimental terms, giving lots of space for skits and scenes as they regress further back in time. On the way, they pass derring-do epics of wartime valour and escape, and travel to France, Malaysia, Australia, India and back. Sometimes their world dissolves into abstract dance passages where the meaning has to be inferred by the audience and sometimes, the spoken narrative takes the audience right to the heart of their world with family stories from the past.

Director James Williams handles the performers well and brings into focus the volume of ideas flowing across the stage, compacting it all into a one-hour show format. Composer and fellow performer, Greg Hall offers up effective sound and music with a sensitive and self-effacing performance and the whole is warmly and effortlessy lit by John Collingswood. Designer Saz Moir makes the stage lively and full of the stuff of a Jules Verne fantasy, giving the cast all the props and bric a brac they need to get on with it.

In the end, though, what kind of show is it? It’s a mellow and autobiographical, fantastical and funny trip through the Treays’ brothers’ heads that’s what it is. With a lot of laughs to be had throughout, it’s a good family night out at the theatre, full of love and good heartedness where no animals are killed in the making of the show and all the children go to bed happy at the end.

Reviewed by: Roy Campbell-Moore

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