Tim Etchells’ new monologue for Forced Entertainment takes the form of a thought experiment about time travel.
Created with and for the performer Tyrone Huggins, To Move in Time is essentially a short story in which a man muses on what he would do if he had the power of time travel. What would he do with this new skill? What things would he change?
These imaginings start small. Perhaps he would go back into the past to prevent himself from eating a disappointing lunch, or prevent himself from deleting an important document on his computer. Gradually they become more elaborate, the impact bigger. He would go back and fix a paving stone in order stop someone from falling in front of a car the following day.
With each new thread of the story he envisions making larger and larger changes to his life, to the lives of others, to the world. He unfolds each idea carefully like a piece of paper, exploring the possible consequences of each change logically and in considerable detail.
Some of the suggestions he makes are light-hearted, such as when he imagines inserting himself into the background of famous photographs in order to bamboozle future historians. Other are more morally complex. He posits the idea that he might kill all the “evil” people in the world, the Hitlers and the Stalins. Or perhaps he might simply use his knowledge of the future to make himself rich. He gives himself God-like abilities.
A lot of this is familiar, from the plots of novels and films and from the kind of philosophical discussions that many people will have had at some point. He revels in all the potential paradoxes he might encounter; what if he met his own mother before he was born? He might risk becoming his own father. He ponders what it would be like to watch his own death, to sit there and watch as he breathed his last breath and the light went out of his eyes.
The piece becomes increasingly existential in tone as it develops, though Huggins delivers the material in an unflashy manner throughout, standing in the centre of a circle of white cards that resembles a clock-face and speaking in a casual, conversational style, exploring each thought as if it had just occurred to him. Etchells’ text is also circular, repeatedly returning to the phrase: “If I could travel through time,” before wandering off down a different narrative avenue.
The show is theatre at its purest in the sense that it’s just a man standing on stage and telling a story. But while it’s an absorbing story – one that sparks vast questions in its audience – as an experience, it’s static. It holds its audience at arm’s length and, paradoxically, isn’t all that transporting.