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Girl in the Machine

"A cautionary tale"

Audrey review: Those who have to compete with an iPhone for their loved one’s attention may experience empathetic shudders.

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Girl in the Machine

Date: 23 Jun 2019

Scottish writer Stef Smith’s snack-sized play charts the destruction of a relationship by intrusive technology.

Those who have to compete with an iPhone for their loved one’s attention may experience empathetic shudders.

Polly (played by Chantelle Jamieson) is a lawyer. Partner Owen (Brandon McClelland) is a nurse.

One day, Owen comes home with a Black Box, a gizmo recently introduced into the hospital system. It calms and soothes, apparently, and the stressed-out Polly could sure use one.

And it works. Polly enjoys profound relaxation.

But (and you know there has be a ‘but’), the Black Box experience is addictive. Polly begins to crave it and before long, Owen finds himself relegated to the role of bit-part player in her life.

Then news starts to filter out that people are being found next to their Black Boxes, smiling blissfully but stone dead.

Smith’s story is set in some near future dystopia (where we all have Citizen chips embedded under our skin) but it confronts us with a mirror image of the present: our absorption with the digital realm at the expense of the world around us; our numbing immersion in the social media stream; the creeping influence of trans-national corporations on governance and civil society; the irony in unlimited connectivity resulting in isolation.

There’s something going on outside – an uprising is brewing. But Polly, for now, is a lost cause. Resistance is possible, Smith seems to suggest, but we are far more likely to sleepwalk our way into subservience than take to the streets.

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A cautionary tale then, and a brief one. Girl in the Machine only takes 50 minutes to unfold. But its message is delivered so succinctly, it actually feels about 20 minutes too long.

This National Theatre of Parramatta production, directed by Claudia Barrie and designed by Ella Butler isolates the actors in a Perspex-sided box. We watch their evolving crisis as through the window of their chic apartment.

Polly and Owen’s amplified voices (and the boxy reverberations of the set’s interior) are transmitted via speakers mounted either side of the stage. So too are Polly’s swirling thoughts, delivered as voiceover. This in turn, form part of a complex aural field composed by Ben Pierpoint.

McClelland and Jamieson perform strongly though the environment they work in takes its toll on some of their finer shading.

Barrie concludes the performance with a gaseous coup de theatre to obliterate the world of the play, but overall the production never quite gets to the point where the physical barrier separating audience and actors seems to dissolve.

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