The first draft of ‘The Time Machine’ script, the spoken part of the Time Traveller, was written over a three month period during 2010. I read and reread the novel before beginning the subtractive process of carefully chiseling down what I considered to be poignant parts of H.G. Wells’s writing, gradually honing it to serve as a narration to support the music. This meant discarding a huge amount of prose, distilling tens of thousands of words down to just a few thousand. At this point I was merely working to get the word count down so that it would be possible to fit the script on the album whilst keeping the flow, sense and heart of Wells’s enchanting tale. However I didn’t just want the story to fit on the album, it had to be the ‘best fit’ possible. It had to carry the characters, the action and the those essential Wellsian ideals and philosophy without becoming a disjointed, bogged down and unwieldy mess.
Coming up with the script was not easy. A novel really is a thing unto itself, the story unfolds in it’s own time, sometimes jumping ahead, sometimes reflective. Additionally Wells played a very neat trick of dovetailing the Time Traveller’s first person narration within another observers’ narration to create an air of authenticity and realism in his tale. A musical, however requires only a few thousand words to carry the story and really doesn’t need the burden of all this additional complexity—the script needed to be much tighter, immediate and direct. Decisions had to made regarding which scenes or events were essential to keep and which were less significant and could be let go. Adapting a novel for a musical was an entirely new thing for me, new and unknown territory, and I could find no guide books or 101 instruction manual on how to do it. I did, however find Doreen Wayne’s script from Jeff Wayne’s ‘The War of the Worlds’ musical invaluable as a reference for word count and structure too—she’d done a brilliant job of condensing all the important elements of the story into her script.
After three months of tinkering I had my script, but only a vague inkling about song ideas and where these songs might sit within the narration – nothing definite. There was still much work to be done. One particularly sticky problem I repeatedly encountered was in setting the boundaries for the beginning and end of each side of the album—I kept on changing end-points, shifting and moving them around. This was almost certainly because I lacked a full vision of the musical to be—my aims were too diffuse and I needed to get a lay of the land. It was then I decided to make a storyboard—like a director does when making a movie—and took a jaunt to our local stationery shop, returning with four A1 foam boards and a couple of tubes of ‘Pritt Stick’ paper glue. Next, I photocopied all the pages from a copy of the 1956 comic book version of ‘The Time Machine’ [#133 Classics Illustrated] and cut each page up into its individual pictures and text fragments. I ended up with hundreds and hundreds of paper fragments which I began rearranging into some kind of sensible order and glueing onto the boards according to my script. During the procedure I made sure all the windows were firmly closed as I knew that one sudden gust of wind would mean spending an eternity sorting out all those mixed up paper fragments. It was fascinating to see how the comic book compared with the original novel—there were gaps or course, and additions because the condensed comic book story was not exactly the same, the comic book being more direct, action-focused and less poetic.
Now I had a much better overview of what each side of the album would contain and a more definite idea of where the songs would fit in with the narration. Although the storyboards had really helped crystallise out the whole thing there were still problems with the the way the word count was distributed across each side of the album—Side 4 was way too fat and Side 2 too lean. Yet more work was needed. I liked where I’d positioned the cliff-hanger end-points for each side and was determined these would stay where they were, so undertook more work to flesh-out Side 2 and trim the wordage on Side 4. Also, I’d split the album into two halves, ‘Overworld’ and ‘Underworld’, again taking a lead of Jeff Wayne’s ‘The War of the Worlds’, where the double album is split into two discs, ‘The Coming of the Martians’ and ‘The Earth Under the Martians’. As time passed my script underwent further fine-tunings, gradually evolving, maturing and, as I experimented with putting orchestrated music and soundscapes behind it, I could see (hear) it taking shape… and was, in fact, working quite well. It was now time to get more serious about writing those song lyrics…