How 'The Time Traveller’s Wife' musical goes from page to stage

The show’s book writer, Lauren Gunderson, discusses adapting “The Time Traveller's Wife” novel for the West End and shares some of her favourite moments in the show.

Kate Riley
Kate Riley

Audrey Niffenegger's 2003 best-selling novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, has become a movie featuring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana and a TV series starring Theo James and Rose Leslie. And now, the timeless tale of love, loss, and destiny is a West End musical.

David Hunter and Joanna Woodward play the central couple – a man who travels through time and his wife who waits for him in another – in the brand-new stage adaptation. After a successful premiere run in Chester last year, the show will premiere in the West End at the Apollo Theatre from 7 October.

Adapting The Time Traveller’s Wife to the stage was certainly going to be a monumental challenge for anyone, but accomplished playwright Lauren Gunderson embraced the project. Gunderson is one of the most-produced playwrights, and her over twenty plays include I and You and The Book of Will. She wrote the musical’s book alongside Grammy Award-winning duo Joss Stone and Dave Stewart, who wrote the music and lyrics.

“It was such an important book for me personally,” says Gunderson about adapting Niffenegger’s novel."It's a real joy to reframe the story for the stage. I am always drawn to a big, complex, emotional, brainy, surprising, edgy romance. And The Time Traveller's Wife has all of those elements in abundance.”

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The Time Traveller’s Wife follows time traveller Henry and his relationship with Clare, as Henry’s lack of control over when he will travel through time or where he will end up threatens to tear them apart. Gunderson explains that they chose to take the title at its word and focus on Clare's journey when bringing the story to the stage.

“This adaptation is really hers,” Gunderson explains. “Henry is a massive part of Clare's story, of course, but we stick closely to Clare's journey as a person, an artist, a woman, as well as Henry's love.”

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Bringing iconic moments from the book to the stage

Gunderson explains that during the process, they have combined Clare's friends from childhood and adulthood to condense the material. While adapting for the stage means some storylines and characters have been reduced, the overall character arcs remain the same, and fans can still expect to see some of the book's most famous scenes.

“So many! The first time Henry meets Clare at the library is my favourite,” Gunderson says when asked about what memorable moments we can expect to see.“Of course, Clare and Henry's wedding, Henry's relationship with his father, when younger Clare is assaulted by a classmate, Clare's friends (played hilariously by Tim and Hiba), and all of Clare's art.”

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Time travel onstage

One of the most intriguing questions about the stage adaptation is how the time-travelling aspects will work. Illusionist Chris Fisher (known for his work on bringing the magic to life in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) has the difficult task of making Henry’s erratic time travelling feel realistic.

“Frankly, every time Henry disappears is a thrill,” Gunderson says. “Chris's illusions are such a treat.”

The Time Traveller’s Wife songs

The challenge of bringing any story to the stage is finding how it translates into song and what do the characters should sound like. One of the first songs Stone and Stewart wrote is called “On and On,” which Gunderson describes as “so moving it never left the show.” This moment occurs when Henry and Clare are at their lowest.

Later in the writing process, Stone and Stewart added the “fantastic banger” “I’m In Control” for the moment when Clare is furious at Henry for betraying her trust. The song initially had a placeholder title, “Clare’s Mad As Hell Song,” Gunderson says, and the audience erupted into wild applause every time Woodward performed the song during the Chester run.

The Act Two opening number, “Journeyman”, also brings the house down. “It was elevated to absolutely physical poetry when Shelley Maxwell choreographed a showstopper dance around it,” says Gunderson. “It's all about how everyone's work amplifies and complements each other's work.”

Time Traveller's Wife (Dave Stewart & Joss Stone) - LT - 1200x600

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Photo credit: David Hunter, Joanna Woodward as Clare in The Time Traveller's Wife. (Photo by Ant Clausen)

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