I wanted to love this. I was prepared for this to be a transcendental experience. It probably goes to show that expectations are a terrible, terrible thing and should be forcibly removed from one’s heart and mind and locked safely away in a lead safe.
But even if I didn’t have admittedly outrageous expectations of To Move in Time going in, I still think I would have been disappointed coming out. Forced Entertainment have been responsible for two of my all-time favourite productions—Speak Bitterness and Table Top Shakespeare—and Tim Etchells, artistic director of FE and of the driving figures behind Speak Bitterness, has written this new monologue, To Move in Time. Hence, the expectations.
A co-creation with and for the performer Tyrone Huggins, To Move in Time is a sixty-minute storytelling wordplay that muses on the subject of time travel. ‘If I could travel in time…’ Huggins repeats over and over, each time ending the phrase in a different way. Sometimes the phrases are long and drawn out, as if Huggins is free associating in his therapist’s office; rambling about how he would travel back in time to save his friends or strangers from everyday tragedies. Sometimes the phrases are short and pithy; quick asides about travelling back in time to prevent dictators from taking power, for example.
This repetition is initially engaging, in the understanding that Etchells’ magic will soon take over and the repetitive forms will transform and mutate into the almost unbelievable poetry so present in Speak Bitterness. But the magic never comes. We’re stuck in first gear where one anecdote follows another and the only unifying thread is Huggins’ repetition of ‘If I could travel in time…’
There’s also a misplaced emphasis on time travel as superpower and an ill-conceived middle section where Huggins breaks his monologue to read from a stack of cards taken from his back pocket. Reading from each card, sometimes stumbling over the words and breaking the effortless flow of before, Huggins lists a series of other superpowers. It comes across like a bad trivia game in which someone lists a superpower and you have to guess the related film. Perhaps Etchells intended this section to function as a bridge in a song, but it disrupts the pacing and feels thematically irrelevant.
Time is a tricky topic for any play to tackle successfully, let alone an hour-long stream of consciousness monologue. Unfortunately, To Move in Time almost boils down to a mawkish inspirational quote: don’t fantasise away the present wishing you could change the past or alter the future. Etchells resorts too often to hackneyed time-travel cliches—rescuing an unsaved computer document by going back in time, posing in the background of famous historical photos, getting rich quick by betting on known outcomes. Even the ubiquitous butterfly effect makes an appearance. Despite Huggins’ prodigious skills as a storyteller, one is left with an overall impression of surface-level engagement with time rather than a meaningful meditation on questions of cause and effect, anxiety and the significance of our actions.
To Move in Time is on at Summerhall until 24th August, as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. More info here.