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Review: The Girl in the Machine at Riverside Theatre

By Abbie Gallagher

The Lennox at Riverside Theatres is a familiar one to many, uniquely intimate and rife with possibilities. In this case, it has been transformed into an instantly intriguing setup. On entering, the audience is greeted by a literal glass box that would make mimes proud. But inside is a neat little apartment. Throughout the performance, we are literally looking into someone's home life through the transparent fourth wall. Ominous music and creepy digital sound effects set the mood, warning everyone that they're about to witness disturbing scenarios.

In the not-so-distant future, high powered lawyer Polly (Chantalle Jamieson) lives comfortably with her sweet-natured nurse husband Owen (Brandon McClelland). One day, a strange new device known only as the Black Box is released on the market. The Black Box promises a relief from pain, emotional and physical. At first it appears to be helping Polly's stress levels but soon enough the sinister nature of this new technology reveals itself. As Polly spirals further into her addiction, the consequences for herself and Owen are dire and unforgiving.

It's clear from the outset that director Claudia Barrie's fingerprints are all over this production, and thankfully so since the script is rather thin from the outset. The themes of technology taking over everyone's lives, the online pressure to be perfect, and the reality of addiction are obvious, and from a writing point of view about as subtly realised as being stabbed in the eye with a salad fork. These are contemporary questions and concerns we've all seen and heard time and time again.

The main issue with the writing, apart from the overly obvious warnings, is that this setup had many possibilities that were not explored. The characters talk of updateable, mandatory 'Citizen-chips' and an apparently totalitarian government but little is explained beyond the initial mention. Since the play is only one act, the overall journey seems slightly rushed and left me wanting more. I wanted to know more about this world, how it works, their place in it. There's only so much you can glean from constant implication.

Neither the direction nor the acting can be faulted. Jamieson and McClelland give layered and brave performances that have you enthralled from start to finish. Claudia Barrie's direction has added depth to the story through lighting, staging and sound in ways plainly not scripted. Without these elements, the glaring flaws in the text would be borderline unbearable.

I must also applaud the casting decision to make Polly and Owen an interracial couple and the use of both a fight choreographer and an intimacy coach. The content warnings were also highly appreciated, given the nature of some very intense and graphic scenes. But apparently these cautions were missed by some parents, as at the halfway point I saw a number of justifiably frightened and underage children leaving the theatre.

Girl in the Machine is a play that needs more work to fully realise the message it's trying to get across. It's definitely worth checking out at Riverside during its short run for the performances and the direction. Just be aware that it isn't a walk in the park, and definitely don't bring the kids. If this is what National Theatre of Parramatta can do with such a flawed script, I look forward to seeing what they come up with as they grow and develop as a company.

Photo Credit: Noni Carroll

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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