Stef Smith’s play Girl in the Machine is a gripping insight into the nuances of technology’s interference in our private lives and its potential for future destruction. When the new gadget ‘Black Box’ is brought into the relationship of protagonists Polly (Rosalind Sydney) and Owen (Michael Dylan), its magnetism begins to have dark implications, culminating in a catastrophic ending.
The production’s strengths lie in the intensity with which we view Polly and Owen’s relationship. As the only two characters on stage, always in their own home, we see any changes happening in the outside world reflected in their relationship. It is this focus on their private life, rather than the predictable near-future, science-fiction plot, that makes this play so intriguing. Our investment throughout the whole performance, therefore, lies in this relationship rather than the context within which it deteriorates.
However, our emotional investment is compromised by the often unconvincing love between the two characters. Though the play opens with the two held fast in an embrace, they spend many of their conversations metres away from each other, a staging choice which creates an uncomfortable distance between them. It was unclear whether this lack of sincerity was intentional, reflecting the superficiality that technology has forced into their lives, or simply a result of the sometimes clichéd dialogue between them.
Removed from these interactions, it was in the scenes of Polly’s internal monologue that both the prowess of Smith’s writing and Sydney’s acting were able to shine through. Elements of spoken word creep into her speeches, often ending in fragmented and repetitive language to create a compelling metaphor for the disintegrating world surrounding her.
The play’s representation of passage of time also varied in effectiveness. Scene changes could indicate just a few moments or a full few days, providing intrigue in their ambiguity but ultimately serving to dampen suspense. The escalation of the dangers of ‘Black Box’ felt too quick to deliver full emotional impact when the end of the play reveals the horror of its potential.
With props at a minimum and all furniture represented by four simple cubes, Orla O’ Loughlin’s directing cleverly makes use of this sparse set to further draw attention to our three points of interest: Polly, Owen and ‘Black Box’. During a moment of despair, Polly falls through the cracks of the furniture, while at a time of euphoria, the couple leap across them hand in hand. The minimalism of the room highlights the omnipresence of the sinister ‘black box’ which is often on stage with the couple.
Though an intense relationship is at its heart, it is sterile at times, meaning the play falls short of being genuinely moving. Ultimately, Girl in The Machine is a clever and unsettling take on what technology could mean for our sense of self and most intimate relationships.
Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic