Making The First Time Machine, Jem Treays

February 13, 2015 by

At birth I was named Caspar. Though it is my first name I have never used it. If anything I’ve always felt slightly embarrassed by it and kept it quiet.

The name Caspar comes from my great great grandfather Enrique Gaspar. Enrique Gaspar was a Spanish author and playwright and his claim to fame is that he wrote “El Anacronopete”, a novel which features the first ever time machine in it, predating HG Wells “The Cosmo Argonauts”, by 5 years.

All in all Time Travel seemed like a good starting point for a show.

I decided not to stage the novel despite the fact that “El Anacronopete” was first written as a stage show to rival Jules Verne’s huge touring show of 1873:  “ Around the world in 80 days”: Touring elephants and an army of a 1000 just didn’t seem feasible for our small dance company Run Ragged Productions.  To be honest I struggled to read the novel whose translation seemed pretty ponderous, but I remained fascinated by the man himself.

Enrique Gaspar has pretty much been forgotten as the first Spanish social realist playwright: a son of actors he married an aristocrat and travelled the world as a diplomat to Athens, Macau and Hong Kong. He wrote many plays and operas (zazuelas) along the way, receiving a laurel from the people of Mexico for his contribution to women’s rights and even translating Shakespeare into Mandarin. Part of my fascination with him is due to my grandmother Ines Gaspar who adored him. As his favourite granddaughter she felt a burning sense of injustice that his contribution to Spanish Theatre had been forgotten (despite a retrospective festival of his plays in the 1950s in Madrid). As a young boy, I remember entering granny’s salon in Ealing in the 1970s. She had reconstructed his writing room as she remembered it as a little girl. It was like stepping into another era; like travelling through time. In the gloom I could make out a full samurai armour with a bristling moustache on the face mask and two swords (that had reputably been tested by cutting through criminals), beautiful Ming vases, Chinese wall hangings, Louis XV furniture, rows and rows of his book collection and at the centre of all this Enrique’s table and writing desk.

Now as an adult and an artist myself, I feel this connection to him even more deeply. I now sit and work at Enrique’s desk. It is a strange feeling to think that he sat at the very same desk in Macau a hundred and forty years ago writing his novel. Who was this man? And how could I get to know him? Easy answer: by making a theatre show, of course. After some thought it dawned on me that the key to unlock the connection was through these objects I have now inherited. As well as his desk I also have his diplomatic, uniform, his letters and photos, even a fan he gave to his beloved wife on his return from Macau after seven years apart. It is around these heirlooms that we have built our show.

The desk, his desk, my desk becomes our time machine. The photos become a way of assuming my relatives postures, a way of becoming them. In the show, for the first time ever I introduce myself as Caspar. We weave all of this with video projection, live music, dance and text into the show. The show The First Time Machine Has become a vehicle through which I can travel back through time and I  now feel more keenly that line from me ,Caspar, to my father to my grandmother to her father and backwards all the way to Enrique Gaspar…

The production team which includes my brother Aidan, dancer Iain Payne, video and set designers and musician Greg Hall  has striven to make a show that resonates for all ages and down the ages. I believe that each family has its own fascinating stories and I hope that the show encourages the audience to reflect on their own history.

Stories are powerful. Through telling this one, I have reclaimed my name Caspar and maybe done a little bit for my grandmother by letting the world know about Enrique Gaspar the write of “ El Anacronopete”: The first ever novel with a Time Machine.










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