Lockdown review: The Machine Stops

Big Telly have been active in live streaming since lockdown, with their collaborations with Creation Theatre on The Tempest and The Time Machine.

Now they transfer their attention to a short story written in 1909 by EM Forster, The Machine Stops, a fable about technology, isolation and government control. It seems particularly relevant to the situation in which this current pandemic has left us.

Vashti and Kuno are mother and son, living in their respective residences below ground. They are surrounded by everything they may want for nourishment, education, entertainment and health. The Central Committee and “the Book” run the world to strict parameters, and the spaces out in the air are out of bounds.

Although the story itself is quite bleak in the vein of Orwell’s 1984, Big Telly’s take is quite light at times and relies on moments of audience participation which are fun to observe.

In Zoe Seaton’s adaptation (she also directs) the core relationship between the machine-worshipping Vashti and rebel son Kuno is supplemented by caricatures of committee members and figures of entertainment located as Vashni tries to find a moment of relaxation.

I found Anna Healy’s performance very effective as she finds a world “devoid of ideas” and fails to understand the world around her. The Machine Stops is a text which works perfectly for separate Zoom screens, and Nicky Harley’s nervous but subversive Operator and Niamh McEnhill’s blustering Thomas were especially good value.

As Kuno, Gary Crossan looked perhaps more jovial and complacent than you would expect of a man blocked from surface exploration and human reproduction, but his journey against the machine and thought police was well observed. Crossan is also responsible for the effective video design which provides a background for each actor.

Big Telly’s productions are certainly playful as well as professional, and their version of The Machine Stops proves to be a valuable addition to science fiction brought to the stage and screen.

The Machine Stops was presented via Zoom on 6-7 June. You can find out more about Big Telly at their website.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see The Machine Stops.