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Adding Machine: A Musical review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘weird but wonderful’

Joseph Alessi in Adding Machine: A Musical at the Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Alex Brenner Joseph Alessi in Adding Machine: A Musical at the Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Alex Brenner

We are in the midst of a glut of interesting, provocative imports of musicals from Off-Broadway, with The Burnt Part Boys, Vanities and Floyd Collins already produced, and Murder Ballad, Lazarus and Death Takes a Holiday still to come. There’s something idiosyncratic about each of them, but Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith’s Adding Machine that has now joined the line-up is both compellingly strange and also weirdly wonderful.

It sets up its musical stall with a jagged atonal insistency that is immediately arresting, if not always inviting, but it slowly melts into a blissful release; just as the apparent relentlessness of its bleak story, too, eventually reaches a happier place of forgiveness and reconciliation.

On the day that Mr Zero, the symbolically named lead character, is expecting his 25 years of service on the accounting floor of a corporation to be rewarded with a promotion, he is instead let go – his department is being wiped out by mechanisation. His 25-year marriage is also at a dead end of constant nagging, while he takes comfort in other arms. But today his life is changing forever and he takes matters into his own hands, with disastrous consequences that lead him to the death chamber – and an after-life in which he can, at last, find and make peace.

Josh Seymour’s dark, intense production is staged with chilling, thrilling precision, with Chi-San Howard providing intricately choreographed movement. Joseph Alessi plays the downtrodden Mr Zero with an unsentimental, stoic calm, while Kate Milner-Evans and Edd Campbell Bird are appropriately unsympathetic as his wife and a fellow prisoner.

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Weird but wonderful musical that is stunningly well-staged