The Time Traveller's Wife The Musical proves to be a good time at the theatre even when it falls flat

This stage adaptation of the Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife is safe and confused

Anya Ryan, 12th December 2023

If you think the prospect of time travel would be exciting, this new musical by Dave Stewart, Joss Stone and Lauren Gunderson will prove you wrong. Who'd have thought that a fantasy so exciting on paper could end up feeling so safe onstage?

Adapted from the 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller's Wife centres on Henry (David Hunter), who has a rare genetic disorder resulting in him bouncing back through the past or tumbling into the future. Left behind is his "paper sculptor" wife, Clare, played by Joanna Woodward, who has a big, full voice that dazzles. And yet, despite her talent and the show's creative team of dreams, it is all a little undernourished.

And perhaps that's because Niffenegger's story is just too complicated for the stage and ends up lacking in boldness. There's a lot to contend with: there are temporal difficulties, and it does not have a straightforward chronology. As audience members, we often have to be spoon-fed the narrative with captions and signposts showing time and place. In its original form, The Time Traveller's Wife is a knotty tale about the difficulties of long-distance love, mortality and time. But here, the issues are glazed over in favour of more pedestrian exposition. The first act, in particular, drags tirelessly and looks limp.

But the biggest tragedy is that we don't remotely believe in the central relationship. While the two actors are perfectly competent in their own right, when they come together, they seem mismatched. Their love should feel boundless, but a bizarre comedic energy replaces any sense of urgency and connection. They are thinly drawn as characters, and we never get to the core of their inner turmoil and emotions.

Still, there are some glorious musical moments. Woodward glides through the high notes in the show's big number 'One Day' with starry ease. The second act opens with the swirling 'Journeyman', which depicts Henry falling through the centuries with a staggering video projection by Andrzej Goulding. It is quite the visual spectacle.

A good book doesn't always translate as good theatre - die-hard fans of Niffenegger are bound to leave the theatre disappointed. But there are pleasant songs, a dance break here and there, and some visionary sliding screen set pieces designed by Anna Fleischle. Is it the sci-fi rom-com musical of the century? Let's hope not, but it is a pleasant enough evening for those who enjoy a big musical extravaganza.