Pop stars writing musicals can be a bit hit and miss – Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots or Sara Bareilles’s Waitress are examples of the former. There are also musicals which build on a jukebox of pop songs, as in the sensational & Juliet.
For The Time Traveller’s Wife, Joss Stone and Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame) are responsible for the songs, and although there are moments which move the story along (“I See Her” and “A Woman’s Intuition”, the music lacks that big emotional pull.
David Hunter plays Henry, who has a genetic quirk, which makes him time travel with no warning. When he meets Clare (Joanna Woodward) in the library where he works – in some weird stereotype of date stamps and shushes – she has been seeing him for years, but he knows nothing about it.
A second act showpiece, ‘Journeyman’, feels like a standalone music video in its energy and creativity. Elsewhere Clare’s journal entries are projected, her artwork pops into life, and video silhouettes add colour.
What’s missing is that real core that catches in the throat and prickles in the eyes. Henry’s parents have a tragic backstory, but it skips by; Clare has a teenage experience that binds her to her time-hopping friend, but that’s dismissed too easily in Lauren Gunderson’s adaptation.
Young Clare (Holly-Jade Roberts) bonds with adult Henry because she is neglected by her parents.
There may be a little ick about this relationship early on, but no suggestion of anything improper even when we know he knows and she doesn’t that they will marry.
The two leads are in great voice (Woodward smashes “I’m in Control”, ably supported by strong leads Tim Mahendran, Hiba Elchikhe, and Ross Dawes.
Together, they form a strong key ensemble that covers up the many holes and questions in the plot and put across those songs.
Time travel on stage is tricky, but London has been chock full of it in 2023, with Back to the Future, Groundhog Day, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is clearly a hot topic for adaptation and musicalisation.
This is a love story, but a preposterous one that needs careful handling and a solid reason to be. Technically, it looks amazing, with set design, projections by Andrzej Goulding, and illusions by Chris Fisher, which will leave you bedazzled.
The Time Traveller’s Wife is a feast for the eyes and an entertaining evening out, but for me, it doesn’t quite convince or click in its central story.
I know Henry is a ‘librarian’, but I longed for him to be more Superman than Clark Kent. After all, Clare knows it is better to be brave than humble.
A cast album is imminent, while you may also want to check out the 2009 film, directed by Robert Schwentke.
Image credit: Johan Persson