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Machinal (NHB Classic Plays) (Royal National Theatre)

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A powerful expressionist drama from the 1920s about the dependent status of women in an increasingly mechanised society, based on the true story of Ruth Snyder. Sophie Treadwell was a campaigning journalist in America between the wars. Among her assignments was the sensational murder involving Snyder, who with her lover, Judd Gray, had murdered her husband and gone to the A powerful expressionist drama from the 1920s about the dependent status of women in an increasingly mechanised society, based on the true story of Ruth Snyder. Sophie Treadwell was a campaigning journalist in America between the wars. Among her assignments was the sensational murder involving Snyder, who with her lover, Judd Gray, had murdered her husband and gone to the electric chair. 'This is a play written in anger. In the dead wasteland of male society – it seems to ask – isn't it necessary for certain women, at least, to resort to murder?' - Nicholas Wright With an introduction by Judith E. Barlow. 'gripping... doesn't loosen its hold on the senses until its shattering climax' Independent 'stingingly fresh and provocative' Time Out New York '[a work of] rare and disturbing beauty' New York Times


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A powerful expressionist drama from the 1920s about the dependent status of women in an increasingly mechanised society, based on the true story of Ruth Snyder. Sophie Treadwell was a campaigning journalist in America between the wars. Among her assignments was the sensational murder involving Snyder, who with her lover, Judd Gray, had murdered her husband and gone to the A powerful expressionist drama from the 1920s about the dependent status of women in an increasingly mechanised society, based on the true story of Ruth Snyder. Sophie Treadwell was a campaigning journalist in America between the wars. Among her assignments was the sensational murder involving Snyder, who with her lover, Judd Gray, had murdered her husband and gone to the electric chair. 'This is a play written in anger. In the dead wasteland of male society – it seems to ask – isn't it necessary for certain women, at least, to resort to murder?' - Nicholas Wright With an introduction by Judith E. Barlow. 'gripping... doesn't loosen its hold on the senses until its shattering climax' Independent 'stingingly fresh and provocative' Time Out New York '[a work of] rare and disturbing beauty' New York Times

30 review for Machinal (NHB Classic Plays) (Royal National Theatre)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    Celebrity Death Match Special: Determinism versus Free Will 8, This Time It's Machinal — So what did you think of the play? — It was great! She did such a great job of portraying that poor woman. You said it was based on a— — That's right. A true story about a woman who killed her husband. I don't think that's sending a very positive message. — But the point is she never had any choice. This was the only solution she could see. The whole staging is arranged to show that. Sometimes the only thing yo Celebrity Death Match Special: Determinism versus Free Will 8, This Time It's Machinal — So what did you think of the play? — It was great! She did such a great job of portraying that poor woman. You said it was based on a— — That's right. A true story about a woman who killed her husband. I don't think that's sending a very positive message. — But the point is she never had any choice. This was the only solution she could see. The whole staging is arranged to show that. Sometimes the only thing you can do is take a bottle full of small stones and club your husband to death with it. — You always have a choice. — Sure, you always have a choice, because you're a strong, capable, rational person. But she isn't. Many people are like that. — That's no excuse. — Look, it's a Greek tragedy. Couldn't be clearer. In the scene where she's at work, the rest of the typing pool is obviously the chorus. — So? — Well, that view of life has a fair track record. — I'm still not buying it. — Right, let's talk about something that actually is an undisputed Greek tragedy. When you watch Antigone, is your reaction that you just want to shake some sense into the heroine? — Yeah, pretty much. — Okay. Basically, you just didn't think it was any good? — No, I loved it! Worth coming just for the creative lighting. — Um... you mean that in fact we agree? — Absolutely. No result due to unexpected deus ex Machinal

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    How to avoid ending up like Helen Jones: Helen: Ma! Mother: What? Helen: There's a man! Mother: A man! Helen: He wants to marry me! Mother: Wants to marry you! Helen: He says I have nice little hands! Mother: Nice little hands? Helen: But his are fat and flabby. Mother: Say no. Inspired by the true story of Ruth Snyder, Machinal is an expressionist play that explores the insanity to which a woman is driven by her increasingly mechanically oppressive world of the 1920's. She does murder her husband with t How to avoid ending up like Helen Jones: Helen: Ma! Mother: What? Helen: There's a man! Mother: A man! Helen: He wants to marry me! Mother: Wants to marry you! Helen: He says I have nice little hands! Mother: Nice little hands? Helen: But his are fat and flabby. Mother: Say no. Inspired by the true story of Ruth Snyder, Machinal is an expressionist play that explores the insanity to which a woman is driven by her increasingly mechanically oppressive world of the 1920's. She does murder her husband with the weird hand fetish. I'm not sure how much sympathy I actually have for her. This play is as annoying to read as any mechanical sound heard on repeat can be. The dialogue is purposefully repetitive and disjointed, but it only served to rouse my annoyance, not my sympathy. Helen, poor dear, did not have many things in her favour for me to root for her (if that is even the point? Are we supposed to feel sorry for her?). The court case scene was good, which earned it a full extra star (court case scenes rarely fail to interest me greatly), but otherwise this play was frankly a dead bore, and a headache to read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Edward Cheer

    Machinal is a play by Sophie Treadwell that focuses on a Young Woman meeting her Husband, and the inevitable downspiral of her life as she knows it. It's a surprisingly adult and progressive play for being written in the 1920's, because of its major emphasis on feminism. The Young Woman is controlled throughout the entire play. From her boss, to her husband, to even the man she chooses to have an affair with- every scene involves her being dictated to or controlled to do something, oftentimes aga Machinal is a play by Sophie Treadwell that focuses on a Young Woman meeting her Husband, and the inevitable downspiral of her life as she knows it. It's a surprisingly adult and progressive play for being written in the 1920's, because of its major emphasis on feminism. The Young Woman is controlled throughout the entire play. From her boss, to her husband, to even the man she chooses to have an affair with- every scene involves her being dictated to or controlled to do something, oftentimes against her own will, until we reach the key scene where she does choose... and society recoils at her one true decision. The play is grim and very intelligent. The world of Machinal is mechanical, claustrophobic, and disconnected- much like how the Young Woman must often feel. And that bleeds into the striking social commentary that Treadwell obviously had in mind for this story. However much I enjoyed the social commentary, there are parts where it bled through a little too obviously, but it wasn't terrible enough for me to say this play is garbage. Far from it. This is a great play, and I'm giving it a high recommendation to anyone looking for a very smart and depressing story about women's rights.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emma Getz

    I loved this play. It's a fantastic display of expressionism and the episodic structure works so well. It's also eerily relevant in the current climate regarding sexual assault, especially in places of work, and just women in society in general. Absolutely beautiful and completely tragic. I loved this play. It's a fantastic display of expressionism and the episodic structure works so well. It's also eerily relevant in the current climate regarding sexual assault, especially in places of work, and just women in society in general. Absolutely beautiful and completely tragic.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Adrian

    Like Eugene O'Neli, Treadwell shows her talent as an expressionist writing capturing themes of alienation and individualism on a profound level. SPOILERS!!!! The main plot of this story involves a woman named Helen who marries her boss against her desires. She spirals into insanity which pushes her to murder him. The last scene in which she begs to be spared the electric chair feels extremely visceral. Expressionism's ability to capture raw human emotions really makes you feel sympathetic for He Like Eugene O'Neli, Treadwell shows her talent as an expressionist writing capturing themes of alienation and individualism on a profound level. SPOILERS!!!! The main plot of this story involves a woman named Helen who marries her boss against her desires. She spirals into insanity which pushes her to murder him. The last scene in which she begs to be spared the electric chair feels extremely visceral. Expressionism's ability to capture raw human emotions really makes you feel sympathetic for Helen and draws you into the scene. The best aspect of this play is how Treadwell really captured the tumultuous nature of human emotion.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Piccirillo

    “There must be something that looks out for you and brings you your happiness...” well this is not what i was expecting. i thought it was going to be a lot weirder and different but it was good and a little slow and boring at times. i feel like i don’t really know exactly what was trying to be said with this show but that could also be due to the fact that i haven’t read a lot of expressionist theatre but i just kept hoping for more to happen. interesting that this is based on a real life event b “There must be something that looks out for you and brings you your happiness...” well this is not what i was expecting. i thought it was going to be a lot weirder and different but it was good and a little slow and boring at times. i feel like i don’t really know exactly what was trying to be said with this show but that could also be due to the fact that i haven’t read a lot of expressionist theatre but i just kept hoping for more to happen. interesting that this is based on a real life event but i’m like uhh what did this even mean. i think it would be better seen as a production but also umm what is the significance of the title because i have no idea.

  7. 4 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    How unlucky was this? Having arranged to see this months ago at the Almeida, we got to hang out afterwards with S-L and her erudite visiting American friend Daniel. Daniel's a playwright and so on and so forth. You say something like 'I wanted to bang some sense into her' he says something very complicated and technical and theatrery. It was a great opportunity. If only I hadn't soundly slept through at least half the play, I could have taken advantage of it. I am curious to know if I would have How unlucky was this? Having arranged to see this months ago at the Almeida, we got to hang out afterwards with S-L and her erudite visiting American friend Daniel. Daniel's a playwright and so on and so forth. You say something like 'I wanted to bang some sense into her' he says something very complicated and technical and theatrery. It was a great opportunity. If only I hadn't soundly slept through at least half the play, I could have taken advantage of it. I am curious to know if I would have liked this better if I'd seen the whole thing....

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    A careful, if unsubtle, masterpiece.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cecily Erker

    I read this because SLU is putting it on as their next production, and I wanted to audition for it. This is probably a play that has to be seen to be fully appreciated, because of the Expressionist sound effects, but I liked the script, as simple as it was. It's probably hard for people to understand why the character remained so passive until the last second, but I can identify with her feelings of helplessness and that everyone is in control of your life but you. She always had choices and mul I read this because SLU is putting it on as their next production, and I wanted to audition for it. This is probably a play that has to be seen to be fully appreciated, because of the Expressionist sound effects, but I liked the script, as simple as it was. It's probably hard for people to understand why the character remained so passive until the last second, but I can identify with her feelings of helplessness and that everyone is in control of your life but you. She always had choices and multiple opportunities to take control of her life, but she couldn't see them because of her fear and passivity that had been ingrained in her by nearly all her life experiences. That's probably the real tragedy of the play.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    I saw an off-off-Broadway production of "Machinal," in which the lead character, a woman who can't find her place in this world, was played by a different actress in every scene. That worked quite nicely as the middle-class murderess at center is something of an Everywoman. Why not have many women play her? I also like how it's not just society but also the unending sounds of the city that oppress the main woman and how the set (suggested by Treadwell) is fairly unchanging except for what's reve I saw an off-off-Broadway production of "Machinal," in which the lead character, a woman who can't find her place in this world, was played by a different actress in every scene. That worked quite nicely as the middle-class murderess at center is something of an Everywoman. Why not have many women play her? I also like how it's not just society but also the unending sounds of the city that oppress the main woman and how the set (suggested by Treadwell) is fairly unchanging except for what's revealed behind ancillary doors. The horror of the sameness of everything!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    I think this has become my all time favourite play. There is so much to say and talk about. Her anxieties, her inability to connect, her freedoms, her purity. The use of language, and the chosen words are so poetic and meaningful, that from the first time Young Woman talked I was engrossed. I will be thanking my English Lectures for putting this book on the curriculum!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Maxwell

    I would love to see this acted out. Treadwell focuses on the mechanical, repetitive, and inhuman qualities that humans often evoke. It is daunting.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Grace Wagner

    Treadwell’s use of sound and truly passionate writing of stage directions bring such an impact to this experimental piece.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Felton

    I mean wow. Episode 7, in my mind is just a flawless scene, with its illusions, reference to small details at the beginning of the play, and quick dialogue that keeps you glued to the play. Best play read so far in 20th Century American drama.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    A young woman tries to escape her life in the modern, mechanical world. The author’s technique of overlapping dialog becomes poetic. Read for Modern Drama class

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jhoel Centeno

    4.5/5* This is an incredible journey with such a twisted thought process of the characters . Everybody almost sound robotic and machine like. Loved it and respect it for being a play that show women in a different place in the world.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julie Suzanne

    The best part of this book is the introduction, in which I learned about Treadwell and expressionism. The play is excellent. I am officially off the wagon of depressing literature about women...I'm discontinuing my nightly routine of reading Shirley Jackson short stories (The Renegade mixed with Machinal thoroughly depressed me) and I'm going to read something more upbeat. :) I recommend Bjork's film "Dancer in the Dark" which is also thoroughly depressing and disturbing in the same way. P.S. Putt The best part of this book is the introduction, in which I learned about Treadwell and expressionism. The play is excellent. I am officially off the wagon of depressing literature about women...I'm discontinuing my nightly routine of reading Shirley Jackson short stories (The Renegade mixed with Machinal thoroughly depressed me) and I'm going to read something more upbeat. :) I recommend Bjork's film "Dancer in the Dark" which is also thoroughly depressing and disturbing in the same way. P.S. Putting the bookcrossing label on the cover that exclaims, "I'm Free! I'm not lost!" kind of choked me up...very appropriate.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    What an incredible play! Although written in 1928, this play is still relevant today. A young woman seeks independence in a male-dominated society. She is so repressed by the mechanized lives of the people that make up the world of this expressionist play that she is driven to extreme action. The world Helen lives in is more restrictive, certainly, than that faced by women today, but the echos of that world are still haunting us and it is important to remember where we came from and how far we h What an incredible play! Although written in 1928, this play is still relevant today. A young woman seeks independence in a male-dominated society. She is so repressed by the mechanized lives of the people that make up the world of this expressionist play that she is driven to extreme action. The world Helen lives in is more restrictive, certainly, than that faced by women today, but the echos of that world are still haunting us and it is important to remember where we came from and how far we have traveled in the last 100 years so we don't return to a world where women or any other group, is stripped of their rights and feel trapped in their own lives.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kaila Tacazon

    This play is a lovely work of modern theatre with a powerful theme that is still relevant today. Sophie Treadwell writes of a young woman in a world that has no dimension or life. All the characters except the young woman are caricatures with no depth. This play is absolutely amazing. I played the Adding Clerk in my school's production of this play. It was a blast and I learned a lot. This play is a lovely work of modern theatre with a powerful theme that is still relevant today. Sophie Treadwell writes of a young woman in a world that has no dimension or life. All the characters except the young woman are caricatures with no depth. This play is absolutely amazing. I played the Adding Clerk in my school's production of this play. It was a blast and I learned a lot.

  20. 4 out of 5

    The Steele

    A little bit wild, and mechanical (as it is supposed to be). Treadwell shows how modern life consumes people and turns them into a series of functions. I would like to see it on stage, and was worth the hour it took to read, but not my favorite.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mary Margaret

    I feel I could read this many times before I completely understood the play, but the sentiments of longing and entrapment are very clear. Treadwell reminds me of Chopin's The Awakening or Ibsen's A Doll's House - what choices do we give women to control their own lives? I feel I could read this many times before I completely understood the play, but the sentiments of longing and entrapment are very clear. Treadwell reminds me of Chopin's The Awakening or Ibsen's A Doll's House - what choices do we give women to control their own lives?

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elena

    I read this for Theatre Arts class and thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing is phenomenal, leaving you in utter shock as the events play out. All the symbolism throughout the story was very well done, and the story itself was incredible.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Juliet Smith

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Ok, so I'm writing a review largely because everyone else ignores the fact that her husband rapes her, and she probably suffered from post-partum after giving birth to her daughter. So yeah, before you say you don't feel sorry for her, keep those two facts in mind. Ok, so I'm writing a review largely because everyone else ignores the fact that her husband rapes her, and she probably suffered from post-partum after giving birth to her daughter. So yeah, before you say you don't feel sorry for her, keep those two facts in mind.

  24. 5 out of 5

    KC

    Designing lights for this. It'll be interesting. Designing lights for this. It'll be interesting.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah

    Young Woman I've been free, Father! For one moment - down here on earth - I have been free! When I did what I did I was free! Free and not afraid! How is that, Father? How can that be? A great sin - a mortal sin - for which I must die and go to hell - but it made me free! One moment I was free! How is that, Father? Hear me out on this one, because it's gonna sound mean, but I truly do think you can be not smart enough to appreciate this play. If you aren't familiar with who Sophie Treadwe Young Woman I've been free, Father! For one moment - down here on earth - I have been free! When I did what I did I was free! Free and not afraid! How is that, Father? How can that be? A great sin - a mortal sin - for which I must die and go to hell - but it made me free! One moment I was free! How is that, Father? Hear me out on this one, because it's gonna sound mean, but I truly do think you can be not smart enough to appreciate this play. If you aren't familiar with who Sophie Treadwell is, and the kind of life she led, and what real life events influenced her in the writing of this play, I think you are going to miss out on an awful lot. Sophie Treadwell was trained as a journalist and she broke some major barriers down for women in journalism - one case she covered was the sensational trial of a woman who murdered her husband, and that inspired Machinal. It was a study of how any ordinary woman living in a highly mechanized, impersonal world could be driven to the point where she could commit murder, and it's also a commentary about how trapped women are in society and how they can take back their agency. I saw this play performed at my university and I remember explaining the plot of the play to some of my fellow audience members because they didn't know anything about the play before coming to see it and as a result were confused and not enjoying the play. Meanwhile, I was completely enraptured by the play and how it was brought to life onstage (maybe I'm also a little biased because one of my best friends was the lead, but I digress). I definitely think this play requires a bit of background knowledge to get the most out of it, because on paper it is somewhat dry and repetitive (as is the style), but if you do a little bit of research into Sophie Treadwell, I think one's enjoyment of the play could increase tremendously because it really is a fantastic piece of theatre.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa Nand

    A harsh look at the early reality of feminine constructs... While this play was difficult to read, it was beneficial for me to read it alongside watching theatre performances of it. Many argue against the play as it centers around "weak women" and our protagonist's "lack of development," however it is so much more than that. The play, for those of you who don't know, is based on an actual case that had occurred. A woman murdered her husband and was one of the first women to be sentenced to death v A harsh look at the early reality of feminine constructs... While this play was difficult to read, it was beneficial for me to read it alongside watching theatre performances of it. Many argue against the play as it centers around "weak women" and our protagonist's "lack of development," however it is so much more than that. The play, for those of you who don't know, is based on an actual case that had occurred. A woman murdered her husband and was one of the first women to be sentenced to death via the electric chair. That being said, "Machinal" reveals the desperate struggle for a women to break through stereotypes and gender constructs placed before her by society. The working class female is trying to find a name for herself and find an identity beyond what the world tells her. She, however, is unsure of what she desires as the world around her pressures her to marry because "that is what women are supposed to do." This struggle of deindividualism vs. self-identity becomes the main struggle throughout the play, and it clearly does not end well. While the play was difficult to read, I was happy to have gotten through it because it was a great piece and a harsh look at a reality that women had to face.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ginni Brinkley

    Grim, stark, machine like. Sophie Treadwell does her job in setting the scene of a monochrome world where the Young Woman (deliberately depersonalised) is a cog in the machine - always submitting to others, her mother, husband, friend, lover, encapsulated in the scene near the end where even her hair is taken against her will (although I liked that she took it out of the cap at the end, perhaps a last try at self expression?). A young woman trapped, who took the only kind of freedom she thought Grim, stark, machine like. Sophie Treadwell does her job in setting the scene of a monochrome world where the Young Woman (deliberately depersonalised) is a cog in the machine - always submitting to others, her mother, husband, friend, lover, encapsulated in the scene near the end where even her hair is taken against her will (although I liked that she took it out of the cap at the end, perhaps a last try at self expression?). A young woman trapped, who took the only kind of freedom she thought was possible, only to find herself even more caught in the endless grinding of the machine.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bryce

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. As a performance I think the play is good to watch but as a play by itself I found it to tedious and annoying in its disjointed repetitiveness. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to be sympathetic to Helen but I did not sympathize with her. She could have just ran away she didn’t have to kill her husband. If you don’t want to marry a guy then don’t, that simple. I feel bad for her child despite never actually seeing them in the play. Overall not my favorite read by Sophie Treadwell, I definitely As a performance I think the play is good to watch but as a play by itself I found it to tedious and annoying in its disjointed repetitiveness. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to be sympathetic to Helen but I did not sympathize with her. She could have just ran away she didn’t have to kill her husband. If you don’t want to marry a guy then don’t, that simple. I feel bad for her child despite never actually seeing them in the play. Overall not my favorite read by Sophie Treadwell, I definitely prefer Trifles to this.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shelby (Grace with Books)

    The Machinal was an interesting expressionist play based on the murder of Albert Snyder by his wife Ruth. I think one of the most interesting things about the play was the stage directions. How Treadwell decided each scene should be changed only by lighting in the room. I also like how they often took things off the stage so it would appear smaller as the women's world closed in around her. It was bizare at times and hard to understand but very important for the basis of expressionist plays in t The Machinal was an interesting expressionist play based on the murder of Albert Snyder by his wife Ruth. I think one of the most interesting things about the play was the stage directions. How Treadwell decided each scene should be changed only by lighting in the room. I also like how they often took things off the stage so it would appear smaller as the women's world closed in around her. It was bizare at times and hard to understand but very important for the basis of expressionist plays in the early 20th century.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Books_and_waistcoats

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 🍾🍾🍾 I read this play for education perposes as I am studying it for college, which is good because otherwise I wouldn't have finished it. While the message is important and the context is incredible and shocking, in and of itself the play is not to my liking. 🍾🍾🍾 WHILE THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS THEY ARE THE KIND THAT YOU USUALLY KNOW BEFORE YOU SEE A PLAY. 🍾🍾🍾 . . . 🍾🍾🍾 Machinal is about a woman who ends up committing murder in an attempt to escape the mediocrity and stuckness of her life. She is fou 🍾🍾🍾 I read this play for education perposes as I am studying it for college, which is good because otherwise I wouldn't have finished it. While the message is important and the context is incredible and shocking, in and of itself the play is not to my liking. 🍾🍾🍾 WHILE THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS THEY ARE THE KIND THAT YOU USUALLY KNOW BEFORE YOU SEE A PLAY. 🍾🍾🍾 . . . 🍾🍾🍾 Machinal is about a woman who ends up committing murder in an attempt to escape the mediocrity and stuckness of her life. She is found guilty and dies on the electric chair. This is important to note because it is based on the trial of Ruth Snyder, a woman who suffered a similar fate, but who was also the first person ever photographed while dying on said electric chair. 🍾🍾🍾 . . . 🍾🍾🍾 This play, to tell the truth, is just a bit too expressionistic for my liking. The characters are obscured by the bizarrity of the script making it nigh impossible to relate to them. The dialogue is fractured and confusing. While I can see why it is considered a good play, I personally don't like it. The only thing I can truly appreciate is the 20s atmosphere. 1/5 stars. 🍾🍾🍾

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