All pics by Richard Budd

Tickets for Creation’s new live virtual performance of HG Wells’ dystopian sci-fi classic The Time Machine are like gold dust, the first week of the four week run already sold out.

And yet those lucky enough to get their hands on a ticket will be told how Oxford’s scientists and researchers predicted a future dictated by pandemics and vaccine breakthroughs, when the script was crafted a year ago.

“Otherwise it might seem a little opportunistic”, Lucy Askew, Chief Executive and Creative Producer tells me.

But then you couldn’t make up the journey of The Time Machine so far. “Very loosely” based on the original sci-fi HG Wells classic, writer Jonathan Holloway drew on cutting edge research from the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities in Headington to mould the script, creating multiple timelines and time travellers in an uncertain world plagued by pandemics.

The irony that while the play opened in London, Covid-19 hit, closing the run indefinitely is thus not lost on the Creation cast or its audience.

“Everyone keeps saying ‘isn’t it amazing that your play is actually panning out in real life’ until they realise the script is based on the findings of world leading experts and then it all begins to make sense,” Lucy says.

Originally intended to be performed in The Natural History Museum in Oxford this summer, instead of shelving the project, Creation have worked their magic by running it live online from Wednesday for four weeks to an audience of just 25 per performance.

So how did the partnership with The Wellcome Centre come about? “They approached us. They wanted us to highlight their areas of research and their findings and extrapolate the way humans will evolve,” Lucy explains.

“Their research challenges our perceptions and raises important questions about the future of neuroscience, big data, genomics and global connectedness for our current world – one of their directors is now on the leading government panel Sage – so it fitted perfectly with The Time Machine.”

If anything the virtual The Time Machine works better online because the time travel itself is more believable. “It feels more like a live video game, TV show, or interactive film than a play which is really exciting,” Lucy agrees.

If this sounds improbable, then remember that Creation has virtual form. When the lockdown first occurred Creation staged a virtual version of The Tempest which went global and was extended multiple times.

Write ups followed in The New York Times, Time Out in America and featured on the BBC. “It was the largest response we’ve had to any show we’ve ever done,” Lucy Askew says.

“There are very few people doing live theatre online. Lots of people are streaming work, or recording it live and then streaming it, but we seem to be the only ones performing live virtually,” she adds.

“The biggest surprise for us however, has been how big an audience there is for this – that people are more than happy to pay to watch a live performance virtually from their homes.

“Choosing Shakespeare for our first performance definitely helped because it has a global appeal, but the audience made a real occasion of it – some even wore ballgowns.

“It has definitely changed the way people watch live drama, and for us how we make things,” Lucy says.

“What’s even better is that the whole story now seems to have a real connection with Oxford because of the Wellcome researchers and the scientists currently working on finding a vaccine.”

So what does this newfound virtual success mean for Creation’s future? “I’m really pleased we are making new work. A grant from The Arts Council has really helped and our children’s programme is doing really well.

“Put it this way, we are aware that we are in a better position than many in the industry as a whole, and hope to be there on the other side.

“But more than anything this has really opened up Creation’s work to theatre-lovers around the world, which can only be a good thing.”

Already plotting a new summer project “on a whole new level”, upping their game even further, those wanting to enjoy Creation’s Time Machine had better get a move on because tickets are selling out fast.

The Time Machine runs from Wed until June 21, Wednesdays – Sundays, 7pm and 9pm. https://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/book-time-machine-live/ or email boxoffice@creationtheatre.co.uk or ring 01865 766266.

Creation has teamed up with Oxford’s Teardrop Bar to deliver beers and treats for your night “in” at the theatre. With a selection of lagers, ales and ciders on offer, visit the Teardrop Bar’s website to place your order.

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