STAGE REVIEW: Girl In The Machine @ Customs House, South Shields (10.02.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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A minimalistic and functional set focuses our attention on strong performances and provides the backdrop to a disturbing drama that is a bold undertaking for director Jamie Brown. Award-winning writer Stef Smith is at her unexampled best with this veracious dissection of modern relationships in a technology obsessed world. Her sobering script and poetic prose are powerfully presented by actors Lawrence Neale and Corinne Kilvington.

An edgy and agitated Polly is portrayed resolutely by Kilvington and proves a complex contrast to Neale’s sensitive and steadfast characterisation of Owen. Both are clearly committed actors who take control of this contemporary tragedy and offer audiences dynamic delivery of a disconcerting drama.

Jamie Brown’s delicate handling of such distressing issues as suicide and self-harm is not only daring but defines his distinction as a deliberating dramaturg. The 75-minute hard-hitting play explores a dystopian society’s up-risings and manages to encapsulate the rise and fall of up-and-coming solicitor Polly, whose drive for success is a distraction from her devoted and down to earth husband. Owen gifts Polly a seemingly harmless black box in his desire to please her. Designed to help us relax, its mellifluous and mellow tones, voiced by actor Imogen Banks, are pivotal to the plot as the dulcet and euphonious tones of an ethereal outsider engulf Polly’s dependency on escaping the demands of everyday life. Ultimately the impact is pervasive and inescapable.

Smith often seeks to examine life’s lightness and darkness but this interpretation would benefit from adding some lighter moments in the earlier scenes to contrast better with the darker and deranged climax. Polly’s decline from an outgoing and loving partner to a nervous and overwrought shell of her former self, is an arresting visualisation that leaves a discomforted and uneasy audience reflecting and redefining the relevance of technological control within their own lives and their dependency on it.

Girl In The Machine tours venues throughout the North East in March, including The Exchange, North Shields (Friday 11th); 17Nineteen, Sunderland (Saturday 12th); Gala Theatre, Durham (Saturday 19th) and Northern Stage, Newcastle (Friday 25th)

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