UCS Drama up to the challenge of Machinal

“The woman is essentially soft but the life around her is essentially hard, mechanised. Business, home, marriage, having a child, seeking pleasure – are all difficult for her – mechanical, nerve-racking. Only in an illicit love does she find anything with life in it for her.” (Sophie Treadwell)

Machinal, the play that broke the mould of 1920s American theatre, will be the most ambitious choice of text for a UCS Senior School Production when it embarks on a three-night run at Frognal’s Lund Theatre from Tuesday 21st to Thursday 22nd November. Inspired by a real-life murder case, Machinal combines the expressionist style of playwright Sophie Treadwell with her unique voice as a dramatist – political, progressive and angry.

This production continues the UCS tradition of pushing the limits of theatre-making in a school setting, and yet the cast and crew of Year 12 and Year 13 students have risen to its various challenges: the expressionist style, the repetitive dialogue, the theatrical presentation of locations … and, yes, the American accent.

Widely considered one of the best plays ever written, Machinal takes aim at the patriarchal structures of the capitalist society of the 1920s. Accordingly, “much time in rehearsal has been spent reflecting on the play’s more pertinent and sensitive subject matter, mainly gender inequality,” says Director Connor Abbott. “Their thoughtful responses to these ideas, together with their determination to present these to audiences, are the defining feature of this company.”

Cast member Lily, who plays the ‘Young Woman’, explains: “In the play my character is written as quite a generic character – she has a job, she gets married, she has an affair – and what I struggled with was adding detail to the characterisation. The character slowly descends into madness, so figuring out what triggers and motivates this was very helpful.”

The production is also notable for its sinister and minimalist set allied with a remarkably complex design concept achieved through the unstinting efforts of Theatre Manager, Martin Hutchings, and Designer, Carys Bedford, in collaboration with the student crew.

Lily is excited to see the finished product, adding: “Everyone is up to the challenge: it’s a great cast working alongside some complex theatre technology on a very ambitious play.”

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