My immediate impression of We Can Time Travel is of how self-contained and cohesive it seems, like a charming curiosity machine where no cog is without its purpose and each part works perfectly in harmony with the whole.
Much of this comes from Chris Swain’s gorgeous lighting design, working together with Ruth Shepherd’s set. With large standing lamps bordering the space, and multi-coloured lightboxes nestled alongside curio packed shelves, the space feels like a capsule, sometimes cosy, sometimes isolating. From within this shelter the shifts of light that respond to the story, whether delicate or dramatic, feel all the more physical, as if the space itself is rising to join in Coyote’s song.
Within this capsule Coyote weaves together strands of time with sound – the central story involves Coyote travelling to the theatre from what is implied to be a pretty dystopian 2030, and taking us back with him to tell a story of discovering a hidden song within a recording of the Northern Lights that his grandfather sent him. This leads to joining a secret society, inventing time travel and, finally, a desperate attempt to change the course of history which leads him right back to the start of the show.
How Coyote tells this story is the other half of what makes the show so cohesive. There is a smoothness to how he mixes together recordings of environmental sound, to how he switches from storytelling to singing, that gives the show an irresistible forward momentum. Through the mix of forms Coyote also creates a lovely balance of tone in his performance – a sense of gleeful naivety sitting beside a powerful, soulful melancholy.
I’m pretty bad at summing up the genre of a particular piece of music so for a show where it forms the its core, I’m pleased that I don’t have to try to provide a summary that can help you decide whether it is your cup of tea – you can find one of the songs from the show on Spotify – These Days are Running Out.
For the performance I saw Coyote wasn’t the only person onstage – he was joined by BSL interpreter Nikki Harris. Not knowing BSL myself I am unequipped to fully cover this aspect of the performance, but Harris felt like such an important and vibrant part of the performance that it feels wrong not to mention her. Especially impressive was how smoothly she responded to a show that was so often made up of wordless sounds or music, often with several layered over the top of each other.
For me, the cohesiveness and coherency that defineds the first half of the show falls away towards the end of the show. As Coyote is thrown haphazardly forward through time all the elements of the show – recordings and glimpses of different times and song – start to mix more and more. The show starts to demand more from its audience to stay within its hurtling trajectory. I failed at this task – as the world became more disjointed and music took over from story my mind started to wander. But its climax of Coyote singing to a dying sun asking for help is undeniably powerful, and I imagine even more so if the preceding journey has carried you along.
We Can Time Travel is a show that calls for us to do something before it is too late. To make less conversation and more action. Whether anyone in the audience will is a question beyond my reach, but the show makes the call in a way that is delicate, powerful, and compelling to watch.
We Can Time Travel was at the Bristol Old Vic from 16-18th May and tours the UK until 27th June. More info here.