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by on 14 April 2023

Dark, Disturbing and Powerful  


by Sophie Treadwell

Youth Action Theatre at Hampton Hill Theatre until 15th April

Review by Heather Moulson

When it opened in New York in 1928, Machinal featured a young actor making his Broadway debut, Clark Gable.  The play was a runaway success.  An early example of Expressionist theatre in the US, the play is loosely based on the trial of Ruth Snyder, who was convicted of murdering her husband.   It created a lot of attention in an era when a woman’s role was confined to being a wife, mother, and homemaker. 

With a bold painted set, designed by Tom Wright and Priya Virdee, of cogs and doors that symbolised turmoil, the production opened up to a New York office where the staff, like a Greek chorus, talked in a refrain as they bullied the secretary for being late.  

The Young Woman, on the verge of nervous collapse, accepts the company vice president George H Jones’ proposal of marriage, despite his leaving her cold.   The Telephone Girl, played by AJ Hill, was beautifully done with an authentic American accent and brash charm.  Plus we had the magnetic presence of The Filing Clerk, played by Richard Chadwick.  We hope to see more of these two actors. 

The Young Woman confronted her Mother, played convincingly by Olivia Meades, with the turmoil of the marriage proposal.   Meanwhile in the dimly lit doorway, there were vignettes of little dramas effectively done.  For her mother, marriage was the only way, and George H Jones, played by Ben Buckley, smoothly carried this boorish yet ultimately sincere man.  Buckley had a likeable and honest quality. 

The honeymoon was strained and the delivery room for their child shouted out post-natal depression.  A strong scene with the Nurse and Husband turning round the bed as The Young Woman voiced her doubts and confusion, was one of many highlights.  

The Speakeasy club featured tables poignantly telling of separate anxieties and sordid tales.  The lighting and music was moody, emphasising the dark subtext underneath.   Here The Young Woman met her lover, played slickly by Daniel Siner, who has very strong stage presence, and she discovered the joy of a love affair.  Issac Gabriel was also watchable.  However, I did feel the pace here slowed significantly. 

In Act Two, the dynamic came into its own as a plot to kill Jones was underway.  This was followed by a grisly court drama where Giothomson Nickson and Alfie Kennedy were strong and passionate as the Lawyer for Defense and the Lawyer for Prosecution.  However, The Young Woman breaks down and confesses, and the action concluded with the grisly ordeal of the electric chair.   This was disturbing and highly effective, with powerful lighting and sound playing a part.  The lighting by Jack Tidball and sound by Tom Allen captured just the right mood of the piece.

The leading role of The Young Woman was covered by Meaghan Baxter, Grace Allen, Stella Oliver, Issy Ali, and Leah Dawson, all of whom were convincing and each unique in their interpretation.  Much credit goes to the director Alex Farley for taking this young cast of 16 to 25 year olds to their full potential, and to Emily Moss for the classy and authentic costume design. 

Machinal is a grim tale taken on boldly by YAT, and it was successfully done in a remarkably strong production. 

Heather Moulson, April 2023

Photography by Jonathan Constant Photography

One Comment
  1. ShobhaMaramreddy permalink

    Fantastic show. Really appreciated all actors performance. Great applause to the all team who are behind the screen as well.

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