Film - Theatre - Music/Dance - Books - TV - Gallery - Art - Fashion/Lifestyle - Video

‘Machinal’ – Extraordinary production is a must see…

‘Machinal’ – Extraordinary production is a must see…

Hypnotising revival of play based on a real life crime which shocked America in 1928…

By Suman Bhuchar

HOUSEWIFE Ruth Synder was found guilty of murdering her husband, Albert Synder after she began an affair with a travelling salesman, Henry Judd Gray. Both were convicted and executed.

Writer Sophie Treadwell who attended the trial as a journalist refused to write about the case, but turned it into a play, ‘Machinal’, which premiered on Broadway on September 7 1928.

The Old Vic production directed by Richard Jones is an absolutely hypnotic and absorbing watch and I don’t even know how to describe it.

I read a bit more about the style and learn that the form is called ‘expressionist theatre’ (described as exaggeration and distortion to deliver story telling and ideas to the audience with an emphasis on physical performance, rather than text to convey its message).

Machinal’ can be described as an imagined back story performed very physically in a Fritz Lang film ‘Metropolis’ 1920s style.

Young Woman (c) –
(Rosie Sheehy); and the Company

The beautiful set design by Hyemi Shin is basically a canary yellow box set tilted and it becomes everything – an office, home, bar, and courtroom.

Scenes are delineated by typeset lettering featuring words such as “At Business”, “Domestic” or “Intimate” and the first scene of the frantic and frenetic office seems to run for around 30 minutes. The movement is by Sarah Fahie with lighting by Adam Silverman.

Initially you are puzzled – but the actions are delineating days passing with the repetitive office sequences meticulously detailed, such as the telephonist gossiping, an old woman passing through one office to the other, and rubbish being collected.

Written in staccato repetitive sentences there is very little text and the characters are called by nouns.

Husband (Tim Frances) and Yong Woman (Sheehy)

Young Woman (Rosie Sheehy) who comes to work every day in the office, catches the eye of an older man, The Vice President (Tim Frances) who likes her hands and proposes to her.

Young Woman goes home to a small flat she shares with her dull oppressive mum called Mother (Buffy Davis) who tells her to “eat your potatoes” – and mentions the proposal.

She dreams of love but there is there is no privacy in her block as you hear neighbours arguing and they feel the claustrophobia of living in small rooms. All this is beautifully conveyed through sound (designed by Bengamin Grant).

Young Woman (Sheehy)
and Yong Man (Pierro Niel-Mee)

Young Woman has to choose between Love and Security and so she marries the Vice President (now called Husband), and they go on honeymoon she wants the windows to be opened, he wants to shut them. Later when she gives birth, she has no milk, and is prodded over by male doctors while she is convulsing on the hard table.

Life changes when she goes out one evening to a speakeasy or bar and meets a Young Man (Pierro Niel-Mee), goes home with him and discovers freedom and the joy of sex and love. This is a beautifully done sequence some in darkness and voiceover and low light and congratulations to the intimacy coordinator (Lucy Hind) and the cast and director for this scene.

This scene, the bar scene (earlier where they meet and) “The Law” – (which does have strobe lighting) are among my favourite scenic moments in this show. The underlying message is all about wanting freedom and how women’s lives are so pressurised.

This is an extraordinary show. Go see it.

ACV rating: ***** (five out of five)

Main photo: Young Man (Pierro Niel Mee); Telephone Girl (Carla Harrison-Hodge) Man at Bar (Daniel Abelson); Young Woman (Sheehy) and Company – all pictures ©ManuelHarlan


Machinal’ by Sophie Tredwell, at The Old Vic, The Cut,London SE1 8NB (April 11) until June 1.

1 hour and 50 minutes with no interval

Share Button
Written by Asian Culture Vulture