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  • Writer's pictureNeill Kovacic-Clarke


🎭 Machinal  

📍 The Old Vic, 103 The Cut, London, SE1 8NB                 

🗓 Saturday 20th April 2024



Based on the true crime case of Ruth Snyder, Machinal tells the story of a young woman whose life seems to happen around her while she merely spectates. She lives with her mother with whom she has a strained relationship and is almost conscripted into marriage with her much older boss. She experiences a taste of true happiness when she has an affair with a handsome travelling salesman, before brutally murdering her husband and being sentenced to death.

The real-life case caused shockwaves in 1928 when a photograph of the execution was published on the front page of newspapers across America. Playwright Sophie Treadwell attended the execution as a journalist but instead of writing a story for the tabloids she decided to compose her play Machinal, which had its Broadway premiere just 8 months after the execution took place.

Now, almost 100 years later, a brand-new production of this play is being performed at London's renowned Old Vic Theatre. This production of the play is an absolute piece of art with director Richard Jones displaying an utter understanding of the complexities of the story and tells them in a brilliantly poignant and relevant way.

The central character of the piece is portrayed by Rosie Sheehy who is astonishing in the role. The play has a run time of almost 2 hours with no interval and Sheehy is on stage for the entirety of the story and gives what can only be described as a masterclass in acting. Never losing focus or breaking character she absolutely draws you in as she lays herself bare and oozes raw emotion in a performance that deserves to earn Sheehy a plethora of awards.

The entire cast are as compelling as the story itself and whether they played one character or five, they were all excellent and gave spellbinding performances which kept the audience transfixed on the story. I cannot credit each and every one individually but must give a special mention to Buffy Davis as Mother who created a powerful dynamic with Sheehy which was electrifying.

Other notable performances came from Pierro Niel-Mee as Young Man who was just phenomenal as he gave a relaxed yet confident portrayal of an integral character. I was drawn to Carla Harrison-Hodge whenever she was on stage and I would love to see her in a more central role in the future.

The talent in this cast is exceptional and if you don't like plays because you think they are boring then this is the company that will categorically make you change your opinion. As a unit they are breathtaking.

The production values here are incredible too and Hyemi Shin's set is stark yet due to its colouring, somewhat in your face! At first it almost seems restrictive but keeping the action contained to a smaller space somehow heightens the story. The way the scene changes occur is brilliant with the addition of things such as blinds being so simple yet wonderfully effective.

There is a real intimacy here and as an audience member you feel every single emotion playing out in front of you, almost as if there is this connection with you and the Young Woman whose story is being told. Yes she has done this horrible thing, but her vulnerability and fragility break your heart as she is pushed to the limits of her psyche by society's expectations of her, and women in general.

The scene that really sticks in my mind is when our central character gives birth. It seems she is having an out of body experience and it as is as if it is happening to someone else. The staging of this is exquisite and the artistry from all involved is impeccable.

For a play that is almost 100 years old, it has aged extremely well and this new production is just fascinating and keeps its audience enthralled as it takes you on its journey.

With Sheehy giving the performance of the year, you don't want to miss this extraordinary production. Machinal is playing at London's Old Vic Theatre until Saturday 1st June and I implore you to book a ticket. You won't be disappointed.

Neill Kovacic-Clarke

All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest, fair and free from influence. Theatre is subjective and it is important to remember that all views expressed are just those of one reviewer.

My ticket for this performance of Machinal was purchased via the Rush feature on the TodayTix app and cost me £25.

Seat: Stalls D25


Rosie Sheehy as Young Woman; Daniel Abelson as Man at Bar / Defence Lawyer / Doctor / Office Clerk; Sam Alexander as Prosecution Lawyer / Older Man at Bar; Christian Alifoe as Ensemble; Steven Beard as Doctor / Judge / Priest / Bartender / Office Clerk; Daniel Bowerbank as Filing Clerk / Younger Man at Bar / Court Bailiff / Prisoner; Imogen Daines as Woman at Bar / Jailer / Reporter; Buffy Davis as Mother; Steven Dykes as Ensemble; Tim Frances as Husband; Carla Harrison-Hodge as Telephone Girl / Reporter; Emilio Iannucci as Adding Clerk / 2nd Man at Bar / Barber / Doctor / Court Photographer; Jane MacFarlane as Ensemble; Caroline Moroney as Ensemble; Pierro Niel-Mee as Young Man; Wendy Nottingham as Stenographer / Nurse / Jailer

RUNNING TIME (approx):

1 hour 55 minutes, with no interval


Total blackout to start performance; Sustained blackout scene about halfway through


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