Putting the Nation on Stage

From the director : Claudia Barrie

June 11, 2019

Girl in the Machine is a play that addresses the power and temptation of technology and the danger present in allowing that technology to play an increasing role in our lives. But it is also a play about love.

Set in the not too distant future, we meet a young married couple, Owen and Polly. Both of whom work long hours and demanding jobs. Polly represents the cerebral; a top attorney for a large firm and Owen represents the visceral; the passionate nurse who’s dedicating his life to helping others at the end of their lives. While Polly has embraced the rapid growth of technology, Owen is resistant to it.

This play takes place in a time when people have a mandatory microchip embedded in their skin. The Citizen Chip allows monitoring by the government and includes all the individual’s key data. This kind of technology is a double-edged sword allowing for increased safety and lower crime rates but at the cost of the individual’s privacy.

We begin the day as a delivery arrives (from ambiguous sources) to Owen’s work promising relief from pain, both emotional and physical.  At a time when a ‘quick fix’ is something we are used to, this is the seemingly perfect answer. It is seductive and addictive.  Ironically, it is Owen’s love and concern for Polly that is the factor which leads him to bring the device into their home. Living with a pre-existing mental illness, Polly is a woman who is already at a high risk of developing an addiction. Owen presents her with something that offers relief from her anxiety and pain. The fact that it is Owen who has introduced this device allows for a multi-layered build up of guilt and helplessness for as he witnesses Polly’s demise.

While the theme of technology and dependence on devices was intriguing; The Guardian describes the playwright’s approach to the themes: “Smith tunes in to several of our contemporary concerns, including the centralising control of big data and the blur between work and home in an always-on digital world. She anticipates the ethical dilemmas that lie ahead when we cross the divide between man and machine. We’re already in thrall to our computers; how soon before we start preferring a digital version of ourselves?”

I was also interested in exploring the theme of addiction and the impact it has on the family and loved ones. The playwright has created a world which deteriorates quickly. With a single setting and just two characters, it is important to ensure this is a tangible relationship with characters who are relatable.  While our humanity is the thing that tears us apart, this play suggests it is also the one thing capable of putting us back together and the audience is invited to witness as Owen tries desperately to keep Polly from succumbing to the temptation of Black Box’s unseen utopia.

It is my hope that the audience can enjoy both the cerebral argument of how far is too far in this fast-moving technology-based world of ours, as well as viscerally experience the love one human has for another.

Claudia Barrie

GIRL IN THE MACHINE
20 – 29 JUNE