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Critically acclaimed Machinal to transfer to the Old Vic with 'gobsmacking' lead Rosie Sheehy

Machinal at Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath (Foteini Christofilopoulou)
Machinal at Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath (Foteini Christofilopoulou)

When Machinal, Sophie Treadwell's 1928 play, opened at the Theatre Royal Bath's Ustinov Studio in late October last year, it was showered with praise, being described by critics as "magnificant", "a masterpiece", "riveting", "mesmerising" and "one of the great theatre nights of the decade".

Now the acclaimed play, which has been directed by Richard Jones (Endgame, The Hairy Ape) and stars Rosie Sheehy (Oleanna, Romeo and Julie) is transferring to London, opening at The Old Vic in April for a seven week run.

"Once in a while a production or lead performance comes along which makes theatre history," said The Old Vic's artistic director, Matthew Warchus. "Such is the case with Rosie Sheehy’s gobsmacking performance in Richard Jones's unmissable production of Sophie Treadwell’s expressionist tour de force, Machinal.

"I was one of the few lucky enough to catch this show at Theatre Royal Bath and to say I was completely blown away is an understatement."

Machinal reimagines the true story of Ruth Snyder, a 32-year-old American woman who was sentenced to death in 1928 for murdering her husband.

Her case became fixed in the American psyche, not only because mariticide is – and was – rare, but because Snyder's execution was caught on camera; a photograph of Synder, mid-electrocution, was published in the New York Daily News the following day, shocking readers (Synder's case went on to inspire films, books and songs, including Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity and William March’s The Bad Seeds).

In Machinal, playwright and journalist Sophie Treadwell (1885-1970) explores the life of her Synder character, Helen Jones, in the run up to her crime and execution: the play depicts her job as a junior transcriber, her marriage, and her baby; her affair with a younger man and her decision to murder.

The original play opened on Broadway just nine months after Synder's execution. It starred a young Clark Gable, was directed by Arthur Hopkins and is widely seen as being one of the key examples of American Expressionist theatre. Machinal has been adapted numerous times over the last century, including into a 1960 ITV series and a 1990 Michael Greif Off-Broadway production.

When it was brought to life once again by British theatre director Richard Jones last autumn it was an instant success, being described as "magnetic" and "extraordinary".

Jones' London transfer will feature the entire original cast, which includes Daniel Abelson (Humans), Sam Alexander (45 Years), Steven Beard (Shakespeare In Love), Daniel Bowerbank (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse's The Merchant of Venice), Imogen Daines (The Witcher) and Tim Frances (Lexx).

The creative team includes Hyemi Shin (Swan Lake – Loch na hEala) fort set design, Nicky Gillibrand (Billy Elliot) for costume design and Adam Silverman (Glass Menagerie) for lighting design.

Machinal, The Old Vic, April 11 to June 01, 2024, tickets on sale now; oldvictheatre.com