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Sydney review- Girl in the Machine: Is love more powerful than technology?

Brandon McClelland as Owen and Chantelle Jamieson as Polly. Image by Noni Carroll.

Girl in the Machine

By Stef Smith

Directed by Claudia Barrie

A National Theatre of Parramatta Production

Riverside National Theatre

Cnr Market and Church Streets


Season: 20 – 29 June 2019. Bookings:

The writer of Girl in the Machine, Stef Smith poses an interesting question: “Addiction is so human – so what happens when it collides with the digital?”

The answer I feel, is the destruction of valued personal relationships. It’s always the same result, whether its drugs, gambling, drinking or, in the case of Girl in the Machine, an addiction to a government provided ‘Black Box’, which provides a calming mental sedative to cope with life’s pressures.

The story takes place in the lounge-room of a loving couple, Owen and Polly over the course of several months. They are hardworking, young and lustful. Owen is a nurse working in palliative care. He has a considered and warm-hearted nature. Polly is an attorney, a work-a-holic, unable to switch off from the demands of the workplace.

Aware of the stress that Polly endures, Owen brings home a ‘Black Box’ which came unexpectedly to his hospital. She successfully links it to her ‘Citizen Chip’ implant, a small circuit board in everyone’s arm which helps the government to protect and care for the population. What a nice, touchy-feely government!

The Black Box is just what Polly needs. It provides relaxation therapy via soft music and a seductive female voice. But of course, it’s very addictive and its purpose is not what it seems on the surface.

Smith explores the ramifications of addiction, technology and politics in this very creative 60-minute play. Although set in the future, the technology portrayed is already with us. Fortunately, the politics isn’t…yet.

But there is another addiction at work. Love for Polly is Owen’s addiction and it doesn’t subside. Is love more powerful than technology? Stef Smith also weaves some theological questions into the story as well. God versus luck.

Polly is performed by Chantelle Jamieson, who portrays the frustrated and confused character with great ability. She covers the spectrum of personality from upbeat cheeriness to anxious downhearted. In the role of Owen is Brandon McClelland, a worthy counterbalance to the vulnerable Polly. He has an assertiveness that makes Owen’s love of life brim with conviction.

The creative team, under the direction of Claudia Barrie, were outstanding. The set was confined to a glass cube with an access door. This gave a remarkable ‘Big Brother’ feel to the play; as if the government could see into the living room watching every move its citizens make. Lighting Designer Benjamin Brockman and Sound Designer Benjamin Pierpoint conspired to make scene changes vital and dramatic. Actors moved about during short blackouts to mime the emotional changes occurring in their relationship. An excellent effect! The Set and Costume Designer Ella Butler deserves full marks as well.

The fact that there is an Intimacy Coach (Shondelle Pratt) and a Fight Coordinator (Scott Witt) gives a hint of the exciting relationship extremes in the plot.

Social Media seems to be the digital addiction of our time. I fully recommend seeing Girl in the Machine for an insight of what might await us around the proverbial corner.

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