The Girl in the Machine

By Stef Smith National Theatre of Parramatta. Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. June 20 – 29, 2019

Reviewed : 25 June, 2019

Photo : Noni Carroll Photography.

Despite the fact that both playwright and director talk about the play as a love story, and whilst the actors try desperately to make their affection plausible, any empathy for them is mitigated by the concerns the play raises about the addictive power of technology and the possibility of its far-reaching effects.

Set as it is, by Ella Butler, tightly inside a glass box that is either brightly illuminated or ghostly dimmed, the story takes us into the lives of a couple who seem to represent two extremes of contemporary society: she a corporate lawyer climbing the slippery pole of the ‘always-on’ digital workplace; he a passionate palliative-care nurse sensitive to the pain of others.

When he brings home an ominously provided ‘black box’ that apparently promises relief from pain and pressure, she is quickly seduced by its sinister addictive power – as are many others around world.

This is “Fortnite” – without any other ammunition than hypnotic promises in soothing, repetitive voices that eventually – and horrifically – convince the addicted listeners that to achieve death is ‘Bliss’.

Photo : Noni Carroll Photography.

Scary stuff! But not beyond the realms of possibility when you consider the already formidable power of social media and cyber bullying and menacing trolls.

Inside their ‘glass’ apartment, the couple play out the battle between addiction and love. It’s not an easy 70 minutes for either of the actors. They are in the glare of lights, surrounded closely by four glass walls, enacting a chilling scenario that seems, unfortunately, frighteningly possible.

Both Chantelle Jamieson and Brandon McClelland emerge from the emotional ordeal of the play a little strained, a little exhausted. As does their audience!

The set, lighting (Benjamin Brockman) and sound (Benjamin Pierpoint) are as creepy and mesmerising as the possibilities of the plot – and give the production a necessary extra edge.

First published in Stage Whispers Magazine