Review: The good and bad about Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios or questions about nudity on stage
Production photos: RSC's historical thriller Imperium officially opens next week at Gielgud Theatre

Review: Watching Machinal, Almeida Theatre and feeling like a fraud

My reaction to Machinal at the Almeida Theatre made me want to drag myself off to the naughty step to think about what I'd done - or rather what I hadn't done.

IMG_6433And what I hadn't done is respond to a play with strong feminist themes with empathy or anger at society.

Instead, I had just felt cold and annoyed with the central character.

As a feminist this made me feel like a fraud. Am I a fraud?

Is it my problem?

Should I be looking over my shoulder expecting to have my credentials ripped up? Is the problem mine or is it the play?

On paper, Machinal ticks a lot of boxes - a play about a Young Woman (Emily Berrington) trapped within the constraints of a patriarchal society and driven empty and then murderous by it when she finally gets a taste of a different life.

Stereotypical portrayal

The young woman initially appears overwrought, highly strung, unravelling and my heart sank.

How many historical plays with lead female characters portray them as close to hysteria or having some sort of breakdown?

I'm thinking: 'Can't we explore feminist themes with a character that doesn't play up to the patriarchal stereotype of female emotional and mental fragility?'

IMG_3142Like fun-loving friend

In the office where the Young Woman first works, her friend Telephone Woman (Kirsty Rider) goes out and has fun and has a lover. 

She is sassy, full of verve and didn't seem held back by the same patriarchal society. So why couldn't Young Woman be more like her?

Telephone Woman throws a shadow on Young Woman choices - they felt like her choices?


At this point, Machinal became a story of self-sabotage - whether consciously or sub-consciously - and it tapped into the part of me that is always silently yelling 'just sell the friggin' Cherry Orchard'.

It's the part of me that gets frustrated with inaction when problems that are solvable are ignored; I find it very hard to sympathise. 

So does this make my reaction to Machinal, my lack of sympathy or empathy regardless of how true it is to me, my problem not the plays?

Personal experience

Theatre, like art and literature, is personal to each person viewing; we all bring our unique set of experiences and personality when we sit down to watch so why do I feel like a feminist fraud for feeling cold to the Young Woman's plight?

What am I missing?

Machinal is at the Almeida Theatre until July 21 and is 80 minutes long without an interval.