It’s not every day a major new musical receives its world premiere right on your doorstep. But this month, we welcome The Time Traveller’s Wife to our stage in what is set to be an unmissable theatrical experience. Catherine Jones meets the team behind the dazzling new production.
Author Audrey Niffenegger’s extraordinary and deeply moving love story of time-travelling librarian Henry and his wife Clare has been enjoyed by millions of booklovers worldwide since it was released nearly 20 years ago.
Now it is being realised with the help of an impressive team of creatives and a talented musicals’ cast.
Award-winning American playwright Lauren Gunderson has written the script which is based on both the 2003 novel and the screenplay of the 2009 box office smash hit film.
And the musical’s soundtrack of new original songs comes from the Grammy Award-winning Dave Stewart and Joss Stone.
The show, which opens at Storyhouse on 30 September, also boasts some of the most challenging illusions attempted on stage.
Director Bill Buckhurst, who also directed Much Ado About Nothing at Grosvenor Park in 2018, reveals he read the novel when it first came out after he was passed a copy by his mum.
He says: “When I was approached to do this I went back to the book and remembered why I liked it, because of the originality of the story and because it’s very fast paced too. Henry is travelling back and forth across time, and it captures the kind of giddiness of a love story.
“It’s also got a danger in terms of the literal danger he faces when he time travels; when he’s going to go, where he’s going to turn up, and how long he’s going to be away from Clare. There’s a real tension there.
“But I also thought it was a brilliant idea to adapt this story – and I was amazed no one had done it before – because it’s inherently really theatrical.
“At base level it’s a good, old-fashioned love story, but then there’s time travel! Someone disappears and reappears.
“And I was really intrigued about how we could honour the heart and soul of the story Audrey Niffenegger wrote, and also how to create a really exciting, dynamic and enthralling evening at the theatre with illusions and with a brilliant score by two remarkable musicians.”
The illusions spring from the fertile imagination of Chris Fisher, a member of the Magic Circle and who has worked on major West End shows including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Back to the Future and The Prince of Egypt.
Here he has collaborated with the set, costume and lighting designers to create what he calls “moments of wonder” which will dazzle and amaze Chester audiences while also helping to heighten the emotion of a scene.
Chris explains: “Henry time travels a lot in the show, and the way the story is written he’s in one scene and almost immediately he’s in the next, but having time travelled.
“There are lots of appearances and disappearances and that’s a big challenge; we want those moments to be different each time.”
The magic won’t just be confined to Henry’s time travel however but will be incorporated into other key moments too.
Along with Chris and the design teams, the illusions are also down to the skill of the cast. But don’t try and squeeze any secrets out of them in the Storyhouse bar afterwards.
“I don’t get them to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) exactly,” says Chris. “But I do say, I’m teaching you lots of techniques of theatre magic and a lot of illusion secrets, and people are going to ask you how it’s done. And quite possibly they’ll guess something.
“If someone does, just deny it. Because it’s much more exciting for an audience to keep guessing.”
While Henry – played by Warrington-born West End star David Hunter – may be busy travelling backwards and forwards through time, the emotional heart of the tale remains Clare, a character being realised on stage by actress Joanna Woodward.
“Lauren Gunderson was very keen to channel that this is called The Time Traveller’s Wife,” Bill says. “She’s very passionate about placing Clare at the forefront of the story, and I think she’s done a brilliant job.
“I hope people who are fans of the novel will come and will feel a great connection to the original source material…I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the way Audrey Niffenegger ends the story is remarkable and incredibly moving – and we’re absolutely staying true to the novel in terms of that piece of storytelling.”
The Time Traveller’s Wife receives its world premiere at Storyhouse from 30 September to 15 October before moving to the West End. Book tickets here: The Time Traveller’s Wife – a new musical to have world premiere at Storyhouse – Storyhouse