A Shiny Life For Me!

a personal review blog by Bianca

Machinal

Machinal
25 April 2024
The Old Vic
2.0 out of 5.0 stars

Machinal, currently running at the Old Vic, is based on the true crime story of Ruth Snyder in 1928 that shook a nation. From the outside, Helen Jones and her husband had a ‘happy marriage’. Until she murdered him.

Helen is an office worker, pursued by her boss and pushed into a role she did not want. As she marries her boss and becomes a mother and housewife, she is increasingly lost in a world of expectation and convention that pushes her to breaking point. Invigorated by an affair with a passionate lover, she seeks to free herself from the shackles of marriage, leading to a sensational trial that questions her sanity.

The play does not stick close to the true story it is based on, taking many liberties and portraying its protagonist, Helen, as a lofty, unstable, problematic woman, while her husband is painted as a hapless bore who is whole unaware of her struggles. Giving little context to why Helen makes the choices she makes, the play falls flat on exploring a woman’s struggles with expectations placed on her by bypassing those expectations almost completely. Helen is painted as a wholly unstable, irrational woman who makes questionable decisions from the beginning, rather than exploring what a woman under pressure in an abusive marriage might have had to put up with in the 20s.

It is a bizarre, at times grating performance that does not feel cohesive. The only time it picks up and becomes interesting is the trial towards the end of the play, though this does not last long as Helen once again becomes unstable and bizarre in her behaviour when her mother comes to visit her.

A disappointing and unconvincing twisting of a story into something it was not, seemingly making the woman in the centre out to be a self-absorbed lunatic who isn’t equipped to live in the real world.

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