The Machine Stops Review

Theatre Royal, York.  Reviewed by Michelle Richardson

The Machine Stops, a dystopian novella written by EM Forster in 1909, is brought to life through Neil Duffield’s new adaptation, directed by Juliet Forster (no relation) and features a soundtrack composed by John Foxx, founder member of Ultravox.

Staged in the Studio of York Theatre Royal, with approximately 100 seats, creating a close and intimate ambience. In the middle of the stage sat a metallic climbing frame and a chair. This minimalistic set showed the dystopian nature of the performance.

In a post-apocalyptic world mankind now lives underground, each in their own individual unit, with no windows and no physical contact with anyone, everything is done through The Machine. Marcia Gray and Gareth Aled are the cogs in The Machine, acrobatically twisting and turning through the metal climbing frame, responding to Vashti’s commands. Both Marcia and Gareth showed their gymnastic capabilities to great effect, weaving through the frame. You certainly believed that they were The Machine.

We see Vashti (Caroline Gruber) taking centre stage communicating with others through The Machine via what can I only describe as a “tablet”. She is always “busy”, even though she never leaves her room, struggles to walk through inactivity, but seems content with her life. Her relationship with The Machine is the be all and end all in her existence. She is more of a machine than The Machine itself, just a piece of flesh, never moving from her chair.

On the other side of the world is her son Kuno (Karl Queensborough), pleading with his mother to come and visit, they have had no physical contact since birth. He longs to rebel against The Machine, explore above ground and breathe in the air, craving human contact. His performance shows great physicality and dexterity as he gets more desperate.

Needless to say things so go wrong and The Machine Stops!

This was 90 minutes of nonstop compelling theatre and it was great to watch. The cast of four proves that you don’t need a large cast to put on a great show.

To think that this was written over 100 years ago with notions of the computer technology, instant messaging and facetime we use today, showing the dangers of isolation and the effects upon society. It certainly sends out a chilling message.

York Theatre Royal until 4th June

The Point, Eastleigh – 8th & 9th June

New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth – 10th & 11th June

Platform Shift Festival, Budapest – 15th – 19th June