Interview with Lyndsey Turner, Director
TS: The play is often described as expressionistic. Do you believe that to be true, and if so, how will that be manifested in your production?
LT: Treadwell's play certainly uses techniques which are associated with Expressionism: flat, repetitive dialogue; abstracted sounds underscoring scenes; characters defined by their function rather than their back story or their psychology. No wonder Machinal is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine. However, Treadwell shifts the style of each scene according to the system she is trying to depict. The second scene in which Helen asks her mother whether or not she should marry George H. Jones isn't remotely expressionistic in style, nor is the central scene in which Helen finds a moment of intimacy with a man she meets in a speakeasy. We'll attempt to capture the rhythms of the writing and the impersonal facelessness of some of the play's encounters, but the chief goal of the production is to bring Machinal to life, rather than to "do expressionism". And I'm not sure that we go to the theatre to see a meticulously recreated -ism anyway!
TS: What did you look for in casting the actors? What traits do you need? Will there be doubling?
LT: I'm new to the American acting community, but I've been struck by the talent, creativity, and professionalism of the actors I've met whilst I've been over here. Machinal is a big ensemble show with a huge amount of doubling. Between them, a company of 18 will work to bring to life a bustling court room, a hotel ballroom, a working hospital, and a busy office. I'm excited about working with a group of actors from a range of backgrounds who are united by a desire to bring this brilliant but rarely performed play to life. There's a streak of dark humor running through the play which requires actors with great timing, huge imagination; and a genuine love of ensemble work.
TS: How are you collaborating with your design team? How will the play manifest itself design-wise? Will there be original music?
LT: I'll be working with Es Devlin, a brilliant British designer who works across various media: from theatre to opera, pop concerts to the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. She and I have worked together before, and I hugely admire her ability to get to the core of what a play is about. Machinal seems to demand a bold visual statement, and so we've taken inspiration from the title given to the play when it was first performed in London, The Life Machine, (apparently British audiences couldn't be relied upon to pronounce the title Treadwell had given her work). We're creating a set which allows us to move fluidly between nine locations, but also allows us to stage the various ways in which Helen is processed by the life machine. I've asked the composerMatthew Herbert to create a score for the production: he specializes in making extraordinary music out of "found sounds", be they from the kitchen of a restaurant, a pig farm, or an operating theatre. It seems important that the soundscape of the play is derived from the machine noises which Treadwell writes into the stage directions.
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