The University of Queensland

Geoffrey Rush Studio

21st – 25th May 2013


Reviewed by Meredith McLean


Sophie Treadwell’s critically-acclaimed Machinal premiered on Broadway in 1928 with Clark Gable.

Machinal, directed by Dr Sean Edgecomb, is a confronting production, which combines elements of carnival, 1920s freak sideshows and vaudeville. 

“The passion, talent, intelligence and drive that these students demonstrate in the performance, is quite simply, amazing,” Dr Edgecomb saidThe strong research background of UQ’s drama area, encourages us to consider different acting theories for the play, namely Meyerhold’s theory of biomechanics (where actors use gestures and movements as a way of expressing emotion physically). 

The powerful drama is based loosely on the murder trial of Ruth Snyder and her lover, Judd Gray, who together murdered Snyder’s husband in the late 1920s. Snyder was found guilty of the crime and executed by electric chair. In Machinal, the lead character Helen, attempts to negotiate through a woman’s role during this era in history – confined and regimented to wife, mother, housekeeper, and sexual partner. She is a woman trapped in a dependant status, living a hellish life in a loveless marriage. Then, a man gives Helen a momentary glimpse of passion and her life is forever changed. 

Helen discovers how society confines her and how her husband unconsciously dominates her every decision. With a feeling of hopelessness, she commits an egregious crime, murdering her husband to free herself from the constraints of society. 

This heavy play is a powerful expressionistic drama about women’s forced financial dependency upon men during the 1920s and their trapped existence in a male-dominated, oppressive wasteland. 

The production team includes: Sean Edgecomb (Director), Heather Fairbairn (Dramaturgy), Alana Tierney (Chorographer) and current UQ drama students. 



I had no idea what to expect for Machinal. I knew it was expressionism, I knew it was a classic and all of this gave me a pang of my high school drama days. This however wasn’t a school orchestrated show. It was a step up, University of Queensland’s drama students would be putting on the show tonight.


I loved Les Mechaniques played by Alice England and Regan Lynch. Both loud, both confusing and devilish they were the glue between scenes.


Mr. J or Mr. Jones taken on by Kristan Santic matched the mechaniques loudness with creepiness. Each syllable, wrist flick and slicking back of the hair sent trembles down my spine.


There was one incident if there really can be an incident in a play about incidental murder. Early on in the first half the curtain was jerked just that touch too vigorously and one of the poles holding up the material was yanked from its secure holding. For a good fifteen minutes we watched the performers shut and close the curtain, all the while the audience were eyeballing the pole waiting for it to crash on one of these poor students heads.


Thankfully no drama students were harmed in this production.


The stage manager made a formal announcement that there would be a ten-minute interval while a technical error was rectified. Namely, the pole dangling just above her head.


I took this impromptu break as a chance to admire the foyer of the Geoffrey Rush drama student. I hadn’t set foot in that room since I’d defected from my arts degree at UQ and changed to QUT at the end of 2011 (QUT Represent!). They had transformed it into an eerie circus tent with streamers and mirrors everywhere. It’s a unique little studio after all. But before I had a chance to guess all the meanings of the eerie tarot cards dotted along the mirror it was time to be pulled back into the vaudeville nightmare.


Another note of appreciation is the choreography to this production. Whether it be the struggles between the lovers, the dance numbers from Les Mechaniques or the human-machine blocking and movement in the background you could tell these students had worked hard to nail each move.


Certainly on the obscure side, this dark retelling of Sophie Treadwell’s expressionist piece Machinal is certainly thrilling. These performers are no baby-faced kids fresh off the block – they’ve come ready and willing to terrify you. But only until tomorrow night so be quick and book for the final two performances.



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