Image may contain: Finger, Hand, Text

Review: Machinal

An old story about our own time.

#machinal Cambridge Theatre student theatre

Machinal is a lesson about freedom, which presents its message not step by step, but rather shouts it from scene to scene. However, there is no great issue as it seems that nothing has changed since the 1920's when the play was written. Women are still harassed in the work place, domestic violence is still one of the most commonly unpunished crimes, there is still a gendered pay-gap, and women are still not allowed to decide about their own bodies. The set design cleverly uses current newspaper pages about the Weinstein scandal or abortion regulations as wallpaper, almost unnoticeably connecting it to our time.

So there is nothing wrong with emphasizing the moral of the play, but it would be more efficient and more thrilling to serve it in a subtle way. It's not necessary to say everything out loud as the play does.

Image may contain: Female, Long Sleeve, Sleeve, Apparel, Clothing, Person, Sitting, Human

Inge-Vera Lipsius. Credits for photos: Riva Kapoor

Based on a true story,an unstable girl (Inge-Vera Lipsius) battling with panic attacks lives constantly in fear, suppressed by an unbearable ruling mother (Louisa Stuart-Smith) from whom the only way out is an unwanted marriage with her harassing employer (Ross McIntyre).

The cast really tried to get the best out of the predictable clichés. Indeed, there are some very strong moments in the show. For example, it is rare to get a glimpse into the bedroom of an unwanted marriage. Looking at the disgust and fear of the wife and the neglecting dominance of the husband, we almost want to hide with embarrassment-and none of us wants to observe it any further.

Image may contain: Therapy, Patient, Human, Person

Inge-Vera Lipsius

The second thrilling moment is the birth of a child conceived from a hated marriage. We saw the unemotional coldness of a mother towards her child many times, reminding one of the upsetting We Need to Talk About Kevin, or Netflix's recent Bird Box. What is shocking in the Machinal scene is the dominance of the doctor, who ignores all the pain of the mother and all the expertise of the female nurse. And yes, giving birth in hospitals is still a mechanical medical routine in which the mother has no word against anything which is done to her body.

Inge-Vera Lipsius plays the main character with everything she has. She is so restless and wants so much to escape that sometimes it seems that she wants to leave not only her unhappy life, but her own body as well. Her constant trembling is expressive, but sometimes less would be more – which is true for the whole play.

Image may contain: Long Sleeve, Sleeve, Table, Chair, Shirt, Female, Pants, Face, Furniture, Lighting, Human, Person, Stage, Apparel, Clothing

Inge-Vera Lipsius and Ross McIntyre

Ross McIntyre is also very convincing in the part of the selfish husband. His character is so credibly disgusting that I also started to consider hitting him on the head with a glass ball. Meanwhile, his performance has some lightness to it, which brings a relieving humour into an otherwise depressing show.

Image may contain: Fashion, Evening Dress, Robe, Gown, Flooring, Female, Shoe, Footwear, Leisure Activities, Dance Pose, Human, Person, Apparel, Clothing

Charlie Saddington and Inge-Vera Lipsius

The supporting cast are flawless. Charlie Saddington and Inge-Vera Lipsius make a smooth and strong double, and ,watching Saddington, the audience is constantly worried about whether and when he will become a traitor. Apolline Bökkerink brings a drop of Great Gatsby to the show.

Image may contain: Indoors, Room, Female, Crowd, Stage, Sitting, Accessories, Accessory, Tie, Overcoat, Suit, Coat, Apparel, Clothing, Human, Person

Credits: Riva Kapoor

The set is minimalist, but the cast uses the same four stools very efficiently to create different scenes. Therefore, projecting the name of the situations on the wall – like "at work", "honeymoon", etc- is unnecessary. Much like the whole play, it is over-explained.

If you don't mind watching a predictable story, Machinal is worth seeing for the actors's full-hearted performances and for the vital message.