Review: The Machine Stops, York Theatre Royal

Caroline Cruber as Vashti in The Machine Stops.
Caroline Cruber as Vashti in The Machine Stops.
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It’s a post-apocalyptic world, some point, not all that far into the future. Humans have been forced below ground, each one living in their own individual cell. It’s a world where technology can apparently provide everything and which has done away with that old fashioned notion of bringing people to things. Here things - everything in fact - is brought to people.

In this dystopian world a screen not only controls when day turns to night, but so efficient has been The Machine that runs it there is no longer any need for any human interaction. Individuals communicate through conference calls, entertainment is delivered virtually and everyone has grown dependent on technology.

Maria Gray and Gareth Aled as The Machine in The Machine Stops.

Maria Gray and Gareth Aled as The Machine in The Machine Stops.

Sound familiar? EM Foster’s short story was first published in 1909 and it’s a chilling foresight into how in the rush for advancement a society can in fact find itself going backwards. It’s easy to see why York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre chose to adapt the piece and it is beautifully done.

Maria Gray and Gareth Aled are the cogs in The Machine and both put in a mesmerising performance as they swing, climb and leap effortlessly around a metal climbing frame. Inside sits Vashti, a convert to the new regime, who has not only learned to live, but learned to love her virtual existence. It’s a complex role, but Caroline Gruber commands the stage.

Needless to say this carefully ordered world soon begins to breakdown and it’s here where this production really comes into its own.

Karl Queensborough as Vashti’s son Kuno is symbolic of a brewing rebellion, desperate to breathe fresh air again and his attempts to escape the clutches of regime bring a much needed beating heart to the piece.

The Machine Stops is a compelling piece of theatre and while it runs to just over an hour it packs a big Orwellian punch.