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Girl in the Machine review at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘haunting and prescient’

Rosalind Sydney and Michael Dylan in Girl in the Machine at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic
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Stef Smith’s haunting and prescient Girl in the Machine is set in the near future.

Rosalind Sydney plays harassed lawyer, Polly. Michael Dylan plays her more benign, if not quite laid-back, husband, Owen, who is a nurse. While Polly has to deal with the constant drip of work emails, Owen brings home tales of humanity, of being with patients as they die.

He also brings back Black Box, a work freebie which contains a headset that syncs with its user’s heartbeat and brainwaves to provide relaxation. At least, that’s what it does at first. Soon, as non-user Owen realises, it becomes addictive, and can bypass the controls of their implanted citizen chips.

Smith invests this world with a rare intensity – but the production ultimately loses focus and the ending is weak.

Director Orla O’Loughlin makes superb use of choreographed movement. There is a solid emotional base to the piece; it has a real authenticity, while the encroaching technological nightmare rings horribly true.

Neil Warmington’s set, revealed from inside the shell of a shipping container, contrasts geometry and nature in a way to suggest that while this is the couple’s flat, it could also be the inside of Polly’s mind.

There is so much to consider here, so many elements. The play evokes our hurtle into the bliss of a technological abyss, but its final non-resolution, its descent into a simple animalistic cry is a let down.

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Verdict
Tightly constructed examination of a technological nightmare that loses momentum and focus at the end
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