Time Machine

Time Machine Adelaide Festival 2024Adelaide Festival. Elizabeth Streb & Streb Extreme Action. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 16 Mar 2024


Time Machine is physical theatre/circus with a difference. It is not just about acrobatics and subjecting the human body to extreme manoeuvres. It is also about blurring the boundaries between apparatus and body, so that the body not only uses apparatus but also becomes it at other times. The performers at times become hinges, levers, fulcrums, surfaces, and other geometrical and physical forms, and interact with other performers who use these anthropomorphic apparatuses to bounce off (literally) and interact with.


The visionary behind the mayhem is the legendary Elizabeth Streb and her company Streb Extreme Action. She is the creative behind the human circus acts that were part of the lead up to the London 2012 summer Olympics, including abseiling the London City Hall building, and ‘inhabiting’ the spokes of the London Eye! She has been producing her brand of ‘circus theatre’ (it really defies nomenclature) for four decades, and Time Machine comprises significant excerpts from a number of her shows. In a way, it is a journey through time and her artistic output. But. this could be the Achilles heel of Time Machine – it is too episodic and lacks a narrative. Even though many of the excerpts are exciting, the whole thing becomes a ‘best of’ and invariably some acts are more impressive than others. A narrative to stitch the whole thing together would have given context to the individual excerpts and prevented unnecessary comparison between them.


There is great comedy in the show, and there are nods to the antics of the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. The music and sound effects that underscore the performance characterises the punishment the performers subject their bodies to. The staging is bright with stunningly fluorescent primary colours that in some ways trivialise the danger of the various machines the performers use. It looks like a child’s playground, and the audience actually has lots of children in it and they are whooping with delight (including many adults who have no qualms in exercising their inner child as well!).


Two segments stand out in this reviewer’s mind. One featured two very large sheets of wood panelling that the performers manoeuvred around the acting surface variously inhabiting every available location. Mathematicians might say the panelling was used to tesselate the surface. As the panels were positioned and then allowed to fall, the performers moved in, around and between them in a hectic choreographed routine that had pace, grace, style, and precision.


The other standout segment featured a large open box in which a solo performer was ‘trapped’ and was feverishly trying to escape. She contorted her body and levered and propelled it around the box with purpose, anguish, frustration, and beauty. The audience was willing her to escape!


Time Machine is a fabulous display of strong and agile human bodies doing things that are strangely beautiful and machine-like, almost robotic, but infused with deep feeling.


Kym Clayton


When: 14 to 17 Mar

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre

Bookings: Closed