Friday, June 26, 2009

Two nights after Moonshadow, I'm back in Bristol at the Tobacco factory for another play on social repression based on a true life incident, showing that just because you're not sectioned doesn't mean you're not trapped.
In 1928 Ruth Snyder was executed in New York for the murder of her wealthy husband. Journalist Sophie Treadwell followed the trial & wrote a play based on the case. Machinal was on stage within a year and still has impact today as a feminist statement. Helen, intelligently interpreted by Polly Barsby as naïve and mentally frail, is caught relentlessly in a loveless machine, unable to relate to her mother, husband, or even daughter. Her emotional dysfunction is triggered by - and powerfully expresses - the materialistic society and social expectations that combine to entrap her. Mechanist patterns are vividly created in both soundtrack and visuals, with a series of memorably brilliant Hopper-inspired tableaux at the speakeasy bar where Helen meets Dirk and her first taste of freedom. Director Sue Wilson wanted to show the skills of the graduating students from Old Vic Theatre School- 'not just actors but designers too ' and this provocative play showcased an impressively talented ensemble. I can't find any images from the show so here's a Hopper which evokes something of the sense of loneliness & oppression created by the set, lighting, and tonal range - oppressive monochrome, with seductive slashes of scarlet and elusive glimpses of purple night air. Credit to all the cast too, especially Piers Wehner as Helen's lover and John McGrellis as her victim husband.

Plinth update: by post, a large, card-reinforced, envelope containing an A5 booklet with 24 pages of information for us plinthers including a map of Trafalgar Square and helpful tips like "Before you leave home do take a look out of the window or consult the weather forecast. This is Britain after all!" and "London is well connected to the rest of the UK - you can get there by plane, train, bus or car." There's a whole section on how to avoid sinking into debt over travel costs too: "Hold a car boot sale - you'll be amazed what people will buy!... do odd jobs in return for small sums. You could wash cars, walk dogs, baby-sit, mow lawns, or deliver leaflets... or bake some cakes, and ask for donations when it's time for tea-break!"
So, be thrifty, dress warm, and bring an umbrella if it looks like rain. Who ever said Arts Funding pays people to sit around devising patronising twaddle?

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