Machine is a show that frustrates and appeals in equal measure. Its concept is quirky and entertaining – a one-man commedia dell’arte show where most of the characters appear by projection and interact with one live actor. It’s a brilliant idea, and the actor (whom I would namecheck, but the company’s website is experiencing difficulties at time of writing) does a fine job of acting alongside his projected selves. However, the writing needs to be tightened up in order for the play to take flight.
Framed by an underused metatheatrical conceit concerning characters’ power to create their own story, the plot is standard commedia fare. Flavio and Isabella are in love, Orazio and Flaminia scheme to break them up, Flaminia is on the run from her husband but finds herself locking lips with his long-lost twin, Pantalone skulks about and is generally unhelpful. It may be a little confusing for those unfamiliar with commedia, especially as the use of masks and costume is not always consistent. When Flavio is introduced he is masked and wears a ruffled shirt, but when he appears again much later the mask and shirt are gone, leaving him looking identical to Orazio. With only one actor and much of the audience relying on supertitles to follow the text, it can be befuddling.
The show is at its strongest when it embraces commedia’s lack of a fourth wall and hints at characters going off the rails behind the scenes, or existing off-stage in our world as well as that of the play. Pantalone’s threats to derail the show don’t really go anywhere, but in the closing moments there’s a glimpse of a really fascinating and dark plotline that wasn’t developed.
This is a fun, brief show with a charming central performance, but it feels like the first draft of something exceptional. Fingers crossed that it continues to develop and reaches its full potential.