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TBNG at the Theatre: Learning to Cherish at The Time Machine

Toy Factory’s The Time Machine teaches us to cherish the people around us. Writer Toh Jia Ze shares his experience at Gateway Theatre’s Black Box.

TikTok influencer? Pop star musician? As young adults, how many of us had dreams that were seen as impractical in the ever pragmatic and capitalist Singapore?

How many of us will leave our dreams behind to jump onboard the corporate train once we graduate?

As I exited the Black Box after watching The Time Machine, the damp and breezy evening set a dreamlike atmosphere, inundating myself with thoughts of how I have my own dreams as well, and whether it was worth it to forgo our own dreams in pursuit of a more common route.

Written by playwright Lim Shien Hian, The Time Machine is his first professionally staged play, and was featured under The Wright Stuff Festival, Toy Factory Production’s third edition of the biennial playwright mentorship programme. With all screenings sold out, The Time Machine depicts Jan, portrayed by actress Wendy Toh, as a scientist who is so obsessed with her dream of creating a time machine, that she eventually loses everything in her life: family, friends, love, and her job.

Wendy Toh as Jan in The Time Machine

The play began with Jan in a dishevelled state on 1 January 2021, as the audience learnt that she had lost her job at a government stat board, where her blunt boss, played by Chai Jean Yinn, remarked: “It’s impossible to be fired”. This set the tone for the play, where the audience peeks into Jan’s life over 15 years in a reverse chronological order. We watched as her life broke down bit by bit, and how she lost important people in her life because she dived too deep into her passion project.

These loved ones include Jan’s ex-boyfriend, portrayed by Monil SJ, whose desire to have kids combined with Jan's own negligence contributed to their break up. Jan lost her best friend Mary, played by Michelle Turberfield, because Jan went back on her promise to support Mary when she really needed Jan’s help.

Monil SJ as Samuel, Jan’s ex-boyfriend

The simple yet effective set with the befitting sound and lighting provided an immersive experience in presenting Jan’s world to the audience. However, some scenes were predictable due to the reverse chronological style used and felt more like embellishments instead of strong story arcs.

Nonetheless, the strong performance of the main cast held the play together from start till end, with Wendy anchoring the role of Jan with gusto, and the supporting cast skilfully playing their various roles with witty one-liners dotting the play throughout, including Wang Shao Kai, who plays a relatable character Steven, Jan’s snidely-forthright friend who casts doubt into her plan.

Michelle Turberfield, as a supporting character here, watches on as Jan, played by Wendy Toh, greets a supporting character played by Wang Shao Kai

As the play progressed towards Jan’s university graduation, where she graduated with awards, there was a sense of melancholy. Although it was the start of her bright future, the audience all knew what happened eventually. I would admit that I felt slightly frustrated, as it seemed that Jan’s relentless pursuit of her dreams only resulted in losses in all aspects of her life.

It made me wonder, as Director Marc Valentine noted: “How far would you go to achieve your dreams; to accomplish something huge to be remembered by this world?"

Actress Chai Jean Yinn playing an old lady as part of her multiple characters, offering her life advice to Jan, played by Wendy Toh

As a final year student worried about my job prospects in our uncertain world, I am grateful for this chance to indulge myself into Jan’s life, to learn that — in the midst of aspiring towards my goals, I must look out for the people I love, lest I end up like the main character. This might sound intuitive, but it is hard to achieve.

We all need a bit of introspection once in a while, and that’s what theatre gives us.

The Time Machine was a well-written, well-produced, and awfully apt reminder for us to seek a balance between chasing our dreams and caring for the people around us who matter.


Two plays from The Wright Stuff Festival, Lion and SKIN, also center on the theme of 'Inwards' — offering meditations on faith, family and acceptance. You can catch Lion from 8th to 10th Oct 2021, and SKIN from 15th to 17th Oct 2021, at the Gateway Theatre Black Box. Get your tickets here.

[Note: At the time of publication, Lion has sold out.]

All photos published are credited to Toy Factory Productions.

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