Review: Girl In The Machine

Rosalind Sydney (Polly) & Michael Dylan (Owen) in Girl in the Machine at the 
Traverse Theatre
Rosalind Sydney (Polly) & Michael Dylan (Owen) in Girl in the Machine at the Traverse Theatre
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G.I.T.M. is stencilled onto the giant cargo container that rests in the centre of Traverse 1 at the moment, the audience seated either side.

Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street

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As lights dim and Kim Moore’s throbbing electronic score (think Depeche Mode with traditional oriental influences) heralds the start of Stef Smith’s new play, the walls of the container slide open to reveal the minimal living quarters of Polly and Owen.

Madly in love, they have their work and each other. However, when Owen introduces Polly to Black Box, a mysterious new technology to help her ‘relax’, everything changes.

As Polly soon discovers, time flies when you use Black Box, beautifully voiced by Victoria Liddelle, and time is something she finds herself spending a lot of in her new virtual world.

Set in a future where citizens are chipped and required to ‘update their data’ regularly for fear of being scanned, Girl In The Machine warns of the dangers of surreptitious thought control and surveillance - after all, every ping of your phone or tablet is already just another dopamine hit.

Yet despite its futuristic talk of robot nurses, citizen riots and mass funeral pyres, Smith’s play owes much to the armchair thrillers and TV plays loved by generations past.

At 75 minutes long, it wouldn’t be out of place as an episode of The Outer Limits or Tales of the Unexpected.

It’s a sinister story of love and addiction that revisits age old themes whilst thrusting them into a dystopian digital future in which the very essence of humanity, the human spirit, can be uploaded to ensure immortality.

It’s a popular concept that has been explored before, but here, thanks to Smith’s cut to the chase dialogue, the horrors of what that could ultimately entail is a far more viscerally realised.

As cracks appear in Polly and Owen’s relationship, Michael Dylan and Rosalind Sydney spar ever more.

Dylan’s Owen is a passionate, frustrated, and optimistically loving creation that is hard not empathise with as he fights to maintain control of his life and love, a distracted and distant Polly, played with driven focus by Sydney.

Orla O’Loughlin’s snappy, and at times quirky direction, ensures the pace seldom falters.

A new piece of writing then, one that offers an hour and a quarter of theatrical bliss.

Run ends 22 April