Reviews roundup: Machinal 4.4★

The Old Vic

Rosie Sheehy in Machinal. Photo: Manuel Harlan

They loved the play, they loved the production, but most of all they loved Rosie Sheehy in Machinal, now transferred from the Ustinov Studio in Bath to London’s Old Vic. The 1928 play by Sophie Treadwell, directed by Richard Jones, delves into the mind of a woman who murdered her husband, but let Time Out tell you why it’s so good.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Andrzej Lukowski at Time Out (5★): ‘Jones’s hyper-stylized production is audacious from start to finish…a tale of one woman standing up to the system turned into a pulverising rapture.’ For him, every element worked: ‘Hyemi Shin’s retina-searing set is unforgettable, Benjamin Grant’s sound design skin-crawling unnerving, Adam Silverman’s lighting exquisitely unsettling, Sarah Fahie’s movement ravishingly creepy.’ About the star, he said: ‘Sheehy is astonishing. There’s something almost Hogarthian about how each scene sees her nail a different aspect of alienation’

The Observer’s Susannah Clapp (5★) was deeply moved: ‘(Richard) Jones’s staging is singularly complete: every sinew alarmed, from the snap of a black rubber glove to the glimpse of a flower trapped in a glass bowl; everything galvanised by a first-rate performance from Rosie Sheehy.’

David Nice was just as enthusiastic on the Artsdesk (5★) ‘You rarely see such meticulous, detailed work in the theatre,’ he said. Again the lead actor stood out in a stand out show: ‘Sheehy…is central, visceral when she needs to be yet precise and controlled – the sort of performance you wonder how an actor can sustain night after night.’ He concluded: ‘this is theatre that demands so much of team and audience, maybe even changes your perspectives. Unmissable.’

Awarding yet more full marks, Sam Marlowe in The Stage (5★) proclaimed: ‘It’s a mind-bending, inexorable helter skelter into hell, surreal as a nightmare yet terrifyingly real.’ For her, Rosie Sheehy acted ‘with such raw anguish and fury that it almost hurts to watch.’

Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (4★) reported: ‘In Richard Jones’s super, stark production, (the play) tears off the stage as if written yesterday, led by an outstanding performance from Rosie Sheehy.’ She had more to say about her: ‘It’s a brave, searingly physical performance.’ She summed up the production as ‘a staging of hallucinatory force.’

Nick Ferris in the Telegraph (4★) was also full of praise for the star: ‘It is a masterclass in how to play a character at the end of her tether. Sheehy is matched with a stellar supporting cast’ in what he called ‘an exceptional production’. For Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (4★), ‘Some scenes go on a good chunk after you’ve got their point’, but ‘The outstanding acting makes up for much of that. It’s motored by a star-making performance by Rosie Sheehy as Helen. ‘

The one party pooper was Gary Naylor at Broadway World (3 ★) ‘Coming in at a gruelling 100 minutes all-through, the play is not an easy watch. Whether it’s worth the emotional investment required on both on sides of the fourth wall for its equivocating payoff is moot.’

Two major outlets decided their reviews of the original pre-transfer Ustinov Studio production were sufficient. Back then, Anya Ryan in The Times (5★) said: ‘this is a damning, dehumanising picture of industrialisation and sadness.’ And The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar (4★) concluded: ‘We walk away in horror, just as we should.’

Machinal is at the Old Vic until 1 June 2024. Click to buy tickets direct from the theatre

Average critics’ rating 4.0★
Value Rating 66 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price. In theory, this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 30 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60.)

Read Paul Seven Lewis’s review of Machinal

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