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In a newly urbanised, mechanised world - the ‘roaring twenties’ of Golden Age US - a young woman bears out the life prescribed for her. She works a job, until she marries her employer. She settles down, until she bears a child. She maintains a hollow marriage, until she meets another man. She conforms - until, like a loose cog in a machine, she shoots quickly down a wayward path.
Premiering in 1928, Sophie Treadwell’s play took inspiration from the life and death of Ruth Snyder. It reflected the Expressionist style popular in cinema and theatre at the time while anticipating the subtle, naturalistic dialogue of Beckett and Pinter. With its rote repetition, bleak characters and delicate construction of a hopeless, colourless world, Machinal is a harrowing gem of early feminist theatre - and a dark caution about the lengths one may go to in order to bring life into an empty existence.