Guide to 'The Time Traveller's Wife' musical in the West End
Audrey Niffenegger's debut novel already achieved success on the page and on screen — learn more about the story's past adaptations and what to expect on stage.
You’re just in time! This autumn sees the West End debut of a new musical based on the bestselling book The Time Traveler’s Wife, following its successful premiere at Storyhouse in Chester in 2022. This stage adaptation, playing at London’s Apollo Theatre, dramatises Audrey Niffenegger’s enduring romantic tale.
The musical features a score by singer-songwriter Joss Stone and musician Dave Stewart – the latter is well known for his collaboration with Annie Lennox of Eurythmics. The book is by American playwright and screenwriter Lauren Gunderson, whose play I and You was produced at the Hampstead Theatre in London.
Find out more about Niffenegger’s novel, its previous adaptations, and what we can expect from The Time Traveller’s Wife musical in our handy guide.
The Time Traveller’s Wife is at the Apollo Theatre from 7 October.
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The Time Traveler’s Wife book
Astonishingly, this monster hit was actually the debut of author Audrey Niffenegger. After a series of romantic disappointments, she wrote the fantastical tale as a sci-fi metaphor for difficult relationships. It was also influenced by her own father's frequent travels for work and by other writers such as JB Priestley, whose 1964 novel Man and Time has the epigraph, “Clock time is our bank manager, tax collector, police inspector; this inner time is our wife.”
The novel follows Henry and Clare, whose romance is massively complicated by Henry’s genetic disorder that causes uncontrollable time travel. He arrives at each new destination naked and vulnerable, so he learns to pickpocket and defend himself in order to survive.
Henry and Clare fall in love, but they constantly meet out of order. He revisits her childhood, and the pair become friends until she’s older. They eventually get married but have trouble conceiving a child because of Henry’s condition. The poignant conclusion is both tragic and a paean to neverending love.
Perhaps appropriately for this time-hopping story, Niffenegger wrote the last scene first and experimented with the structure. She ultimately decided to organise it into a linear narrative from Clare’s point of view, rather than placing the chapters thematically.
The novel took her four years to complete, and when she contacted literary agents in 2001, none were interested. Finally, in 2002, the modest San Francisco publisher MacAdam/Cage showed interest. The company outbid several New York publishers and bought The Time Traveler’s Wife for $100,000 – a massive investment. In fact, there was another higher bid, but Niffenegger preferred their passion for her work.
The investment certainly paid off. The novel became a massive hit, selling millions of copies worldwide. Niffenegger has also been working on a sequel, The Other Husband, for several years, and it is expected imminently.
The Time Traveler’s Wife on screen
Fans of the tale have had several adaptations to keep them occupied in the meantime. In 2003, the book received the big-screen treatment in a Hollywood movie directed by Robert Schwentke. The film starred Eric Bana as Henry and Rachel McAdams as Clare.
It was a decent commercial success thanks to the book’s dedicated fandom, but received mixed reviews, with critics praising the warmth of the performances but finding inconsistencies and issues in this adaptation of the plot.
More recently, Steven Moffat put his years working on the “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey” sci-fi series Doctor Who to fresh use by adapting the novel for TV. In fact, the book had previously influenced one of his own Who storylines: the out-of-sequence relationship between the Doctor and River Song.
Directed by David Nutter, the HBO series premiered in 2022 with Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey’s Rose Leslie and The White Lotus’s Theo James in the lead roles. Again the response was mixed, although many praised Moffat for seriously engaging with the story’s exploration of themes like determinism versus free will.
What can we expect from The Time Traveller’s Wife musical?
Yes, the title has gained an extra "l" – this is a British adaptation! The stage musical version has been in development since 2021, and it had its world premiere in Chester in 2022. The Time Traveller’s Wife musical features an original score by Joss Stone and Dave Stewart.
Stone is known for her soulful vocals and collaborations with artists from the worlds of jazz, R&B, and pop. She has released several hit albums, performed in world tours, and won Grammy and Brit Awards. She has also acted in TV series such as The Tudors, and she won the second season of The Masked Singer UK.
Stewart formed Eurythmics with Annie Lennox in 1980 and had huge success with songs like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” “Love Is a Stranger,” and “Here Comes the Rain Again.” He too is a multiple Grammy and Brit winner, and Eurythmics were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022.
Stewart also wrote songs for Celine Dion, Bob Geldof, Jon Bon Jovi, Bryan Ferry, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He has previous musical theatre experience, too: He wrote a stage version of Barbarella in 2004, and he collaborated with Glen Ballard on the music and lyrics for Ghost the Musical, which hit the West End in 2011 and Broadway in 2012.
Stewart and Stone teamed up with Lauren Gunderson for the stage musical adaptation of The Time Traveller’s Wife. Gunderson is best known over here for her play I and You, which had its U.K. premiere at the Hampstead Theatre in 2018 starring Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams. It’s one of numerous works by Gunderson, including Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley – a Pride and Prejudice spinoff which was one of the most produced plays in America in 2018.
Who is in The Time Traveller’s Wife in London?
Playing those crucial lead roles of Henry and Clare are two highly respected musical theatre actors. David Hunter’s numerous credits include Waitress, Kinky Boots, and Once in the West End, and he also became known to millions of TV viewers thanks to the reality competition Superstar, competing to play the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
Joanna Woodward’s West End shows include Pretty Woman: The Musical, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and (giving her some experience with non-linear storytelling) Merrily We Roll Along. Hunter and Woodward originated the stage roles of Henry and Clare at Storyhouse and are reprising them at London’s Apollo Theatre.
They’re joined by Tim Mahendran (who originated the role of Francois in & Juliet), Hiba Elchikhe (who played Pritti Pasha in Everybody’s Talking about Jamie in London and Los Angeles), and Ross Dawes (fresh from Newsies, and whose West End shows include The Phantom of the Opera, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Girl From the North Country).
How will the time travel work?
That’s the most intriguing question ahead of this stage version. It was easy enough to simulate Henry’s frequent disappearances on screen – but what about in the theatre? It’s a big challenge for director Bill Buckhurst, but he’s already proved his ingenuity with work like the pie-and-mash-shop staging of Sweeney Todd. Plus, he just helmed the hit production of Sister Act.
Buckhurst has assembled a crack creative team for The Time Traveller’s Wife musical, including designer Anna Fleischle (who has managed the uncanny already in 2:22 – A Ghost Story), choreographer Shelley Maxwell (whose impressive work includes The Secret Life of Bees and Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical), and – surely key – illusionist Chris Fisher (whose past work includes the time-traveling Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Back to the Future: The Musical, along with Company).
Want to find out how they manage it? Then book The Time Traveller’s Wife tickets yesterday!
Photo credit: David Hunter as Henry and Joanna Woodward as Clare in The Time Traveller's Wife. (Photo by Ant Clausen)
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