The Funny Thing About Time: Speaking with The Time Machine’s Dave Hearn

By Kat Mokrynski

“What would you do if you could go back in time? What would you do if you could try and change an event?”

Have you ever thought about what you would do with a time machine? How do you fulfill the legacy of those before you? Will a date save your fate? These are all questions asked in The Time Machine: A Comedy, “a hilarious retelling of the epic and world-famous novel by HG Wells”. Created by Original Theatre in association with New Wolsey Theatre the show features Michael Dylan, Dave Hearn, and Amy Revelle as a group of actors putting on an adaptation of The Time Machine. Of course, as the name would suggest, things take a hilarious turn, leading to “the most surprising and unforeseen consequences”.

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Dave Hearn, who plays a descendant of HG Wells himself. We talked about his role in the show, his experience of working with plays within plays, and even a British Kermit the Frog!

So how did you first get involved in The Time Machine?

Dave: Well, it was an audition! Just your classic audition. I think my friend Niall [Ransome], who’s also in Mischief, had done a show with them previously. I saw it in Cambridge, they were doing The Hound of the Baskervilles and itdave hearn, was really good.  I really, really liked it. And so when the opportunity came up. I was like, “Yeah, great!” And I did a little self-tape, and then a Zoom audition, and here I am?

And what made you want to get involved in the project?

Dave: Well, to be honest with you, it’s a question actors get asked quite a lot in interviews, and nine times out of ten, you don’t really choose to be involved, you get offered the part. You might audition for ten things and get one of them. A lot of the time, it’s what’s being offered to you. It’s very rare, unless there’s something controversial, that you might turn something down. With regards to this, I chose this for many reasons – One, because I really liked the script. I was really excited to work with John [Nicholson] and Steve [Canny], the writers. I didn’t know Orla [O’Loughlin] that well, but I’d seen some of her work, other things that she directed, and thought they were great. I didn’t know who the other two actors [Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle] were in it and they’re amazing. I was excited to work with new people. I wanted to take a step away from Mischief stuff and see what else was out there. That was a really exciting thing.

Had you interacted with any of H.G. Wells’s work before?

Dave: No. Had I . . . What else has he done?

There’s variations of The Time Machine and then War of the Worlds.

Dave: War of the Worlds . . .  Wasn’t Orson Welles War of the Worlds?

HG Wells wrote it and then Orson Welles did the radio narration of it. So it’s all the Well(e)s!

Dave: And then George Orwell did 1984, right?

[Laughs] Yeah.

Dave: So that’s all the big ones. So I watched the 1960s movie after I got the part, and . . . It’s poor. It’s very poor! You know, it was made in the 60s, for the time, it’s amazing. But yeah, filmmaking’s come on a lot. 

What is it like performing a show within a show, especially one in which the two merge a bit?

Dave: Well, I’m very used to doing that with a lot that Goes Wrong stuff, playing a character who’s trying to be inside a show. I think it’s good because it gives you a certain amount of creative freedom. For me, it’s become quite familiar. You’ve got your “actor brain” scanning the practicalities of stuff – Where the timing is and where the comedy beats are. How is our audience doing? What kind of stuff are they liking? What kind of characters are they enjoying? How’s the timing of this working? You’re scanning for all of those things. And then you’ve got your “character brain” just trying to push your objective and trying to do all the “actory” things about being in the moment, connecting with other people on stage, and playing the truth of stuff. So it’s a bit of plate spinning, but it’s a lot of fun.

What’s been the most difficult part of the role?

Dave: The most difficult part of the role has literally just been learning lines, which is interesting, because, with a lot of the Mischief stuff, I’m helping create and write the scripts as well. We had one of the writers in the room and he’s been amazing, John. He was extremely open and left his ego at the door – We made lots of big changes to the script. So he’s been fantastic. But some of the language in the play is just quite dense and difficult to go in. And also, I tend to find with comedies, particularly anything that’s slightly farcical, is that the character’s thoughts don’t connect to each other in the same way, because you’re just trying to hotwire where the next joke is coming from. So often, someone poses a question and it just isn’t answered. It’s just usually you vamping or filling so you can get to the next comedy bit, which as an actor can sometimes feel a bit strange. And it’s always the same. Every actor, when they come into the role, will always drop the same lines at the same point, because they don’t feel their function or they don’t always feel connected to something. But also, they’re there to give the punch line space, and without that space, it becomes really, really difficult. All actors are desperate to put in the whole thought through the lines so that they can naturally find it, but actually, the challenge as an actor is just being like, “No, it’s quite a blunt device. You have to get to the next door in order to keep the show moving at pace.” And I think that can be really challenging sometimes.

Along those lines, you’d mentioned that typically with Mischief, you’re involved in creating the work. What has it been like being involved in something where you were just hired as an actor and not a writer?

Dave: To be honest, the process has been quite similar, pretty early on. We did quite a lot of workshopping on the scripts in Week One, particularly, and then bit of Week Two. I think the big thing that I’ve had to learn is, and it might sound a bit cruel, but a lot of the stuff that isn’t working just isn’t my problem. And that’s the kind of weirdest thing to take away from it – Reminding myself that I am an actor. There were a few things in Tech, like Michael was struggling with something on the drinks trolley, and I realized after about 30 seconds that I was in there with the stage managers coming up with solutions and essentially redirecting Michael, being like, “We could just do this, this, and this.” And it took me a second to be like, “Oh, no, there’s stage management, there’s in-house carpenters and electricians, there’s a director over there . . .This isn’t my job.” 

Not my job!

Dave: And I think that it’s hard because the vibe of this show has been very collaborative. It’s a bit of a trick because it’s allowing me space and time to do the thing that I would naturally do anyway, but also reminding myself and being like, “Oh, actually, no, I don’t have to solve this right now.” Also, as an actor, sometimes it’s useful to be a bit more selfish, to go and speak to a producer, or a writer, or a director, or a stage manager and just go, “I know that this is what you want, but this isn’t working for me. I’m trying everything I can, but this either needs to change or I need some help.” Sometimes as an actor, you can feel like you’re asking too much. And you have to be kind obviously, don’t be a dick! But it’s just finding a language that you can communicate with people effectively. It’s been really interesting learning that on this because I hadn’t been with people I’ve known for fifteen years, so I don’t have that shorthand.  I hope I’ve been good to work with . . . I’m sure I have been! I’m sure I’ve been absolutely fine.

[Laughs] What is your favorite line in the show?

Dave: That’s a tough one. Favorite line . . . Probably of mine, I say to Michael, “That thing you do with your penis.” That always gets a laugh, I enjoy that. A really fun line to say is . . . I say the name of the city that we’re in. I just shout, “Ipswich! You have been fully briefed.” And I enjoy just screaming that at people – That’s really enjoyable. I get to play Kermit the Frog at one point. That’s really fun. I gave up on perfecting the accent and I’m just going with my own version of it!

A British Kermit!

Dave: Yeah, pretty much. 

What do you hope audiences take away from The Time Machine?

Dave: I hope they take away a genuinely good time. It’s a little bit more than escapism in the sense of it is very funny and it is quite wild. The second half, particularly, can be quite feral. [Laughs] But I’d love people to walk away feeling that they’ve had a good time, they’ve laughed at a lot of stuff, it was a good way to spend that time. But also, I’d be really pleased if people went away with a little morality and mortality, and the slightly more existential idea of, “Okay, well what would you do if you could go back in time? What would you do if you could try and change an event?” Even if people just had a two minute-conversation in the car on the way home about that, I’d find that really exciting. Also, if people would go home and research some of the science in the show to be like, “What was that about? What does that actually mean?” Or like, “I think I understood it,” because some of it is really amazing and some of it is intentionally designed to be contradictory. It’s quite wonderful to try and explain that stuff every night.

And finally, how would you describe The Time Machine in one word?

Dave: Nuts!

Thank you to Dave for the eye-opening interview and to Alison Duguid for arranging it!

The Time Machine is currently on tour across the UK, with its next stops being the Derby Theatre in Derby (7 to 11 Marc) and the York Theatre Royal in York (14 to 18 March). Tickets can be purchased here.


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