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Cover to the programme of the Royal National Theatre's 1993 production
Written by Sophie Treadwell
Date premiered September 7, 1928
Place premiered Broadway
Original language English
Genre Expressionism
Setting An office; a flat; a hotel; a hospital; a speakeasy; a furnished room; a drawing room; a court room; a prison; in the dark

Machinal is a play written by American playwright and journalist Sophie Treadwell, inspired by the real life case of convicted and executed murderer Ruth Snyder. Its 1928 Broadway premiere, directed by Arthur Hopkins, is considered one of the highpoints of Expressionist theatre on the American stage. It was included in Burns Mantle's The Best Plays of 1928-1929.

Plot synopsis[edit]

The play follows a Young Woman who works as a low level stenographer and lives with her mother. She follows the rituals that society expects of a woman, however resistant she may feel about them, and subsequently marries her boss, whom she finds repulsive. After having a baby with him, followed by an affair with a younger man who fuels her lust for life, she is driven to murder her husband. She is found guilty of the crime and is executed in an electric chair.

Production history[edit]

  • The play opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on September 7, 1928, and closed on November 24, 1928, after 91 performances. The original production is notable for featuring Clark Gable a few years before he became a movie star. It was his Broadway debut, and he received good notices. The original scenic design was by Robert Edmond Jones. The New York Times reviewer, Brooks Atkinson, wrote: "From the sordid mess of a brutal murder the author, actors and producer of 'Machinal' ...have with great skill managed to retrieve a frail and sombre beauty of character... she [Treadwell] has written a tragedy of submission... The first scene, treated expressionistically..."[1]
  • In Britain, the play was first performed under the title The Life Machine in 1931.[2]
  • The play was produced Off-Broadway at the Gate Theatre, opening in April 1960, with direction by Gene Frankel, and featuring Delores Sutton, Vincent Gardenia, and Gerald O'Loughlin.[3] In his review in The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote "Gene Frankel has added modernistic details that visualize the inhumanity of the background... Ballou's cold settings, Lee Watson's macabre lighting complete the design of one of Off-Broadway's most vibrant performances."[4]
  • Machinal was produced Off-Broadway by the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Public Theatre, running from September 25, 1990 to November 25, 1990. Directed by Michael Greif, the cast featured Jodie Markell (Young Woman), John Seitz (Husband), and Marge Redmond (Mother). The production won three Obie Awards: for Performance (Jodie Markell), Direction, and Design (John Gromada).[5]
  • Machinal was revived by the Royal National Theatre in London in a production directed by Stephen Daldry.[6] It opened on 15 October 1993 with Fiona Shaw as the Young Woman, Ciarán Hinds as the Man, and John Woodvine as the Husband.[7][8] The scenic design, which included a large metal grid that moved into different positions for the play's different scenes, was by Ian MacNeil, costumes were by Clare Mitchell, lighting design was by Rick Fisher, with music by Stephen Warbeck.[6]
  • A revival opened on Broadway in a Roundabout Theatre production at the American Airlines Theatre on January 16, 2014, directed by Lyndsey Turner, featuring Rebecca Hall, Michael Cumpsty, Suzanne Bertish and Morgan Spector.[9]


Machinal was presented on NBC television by "Robert Montgomery Presents" on January 23, 1954. Joan Lorring starred, with direction by Perry Lafferty and the television adaption by Irving Gaynor Neiman. The reviewer for The New York Times wrote: "Sophie Treadwell's expressionistic and bitter poem for the theatre must rank among the video season's finest accomplishments."[10]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The Royal National Theatre production won three 1994 Laurence Olivier Awards, for Best Revival of a Play or Comedy, for Fiona Shaw as Best Actress and Stephen Daldry as Best Director of a Play. Ian MacNeil was nominated as Best Set Designer.[11]

The 2014 Broadway production received four 2014 Tony Award nominations: Best Scenic Design of a Play (Es Devlin), Best Costume Design of a Play (Michael Krass), Best Lighting Design of a Play (Jane Cox) and Best Sound Design of a Play (Matt Tierney).[12]


  1. ^ Atkinson, J. Brooks. "The Play" The New York Times, p. 18, September 8, 1928
  2. ^ Treadwell (1993, viii).
  3. ^ Kabatchnik, Amnon. "Machinal" Blood on the Stage, 1925-1950: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection, Scarecrow Press, 2010, ISBN 0810869632, p. 217
  4. ^ Atkinson, Brooks. "Theatre. 'Machinal' Revived at Gate", The New York Times, p. 27, April 8, 1960
  5. ^ " 'Machinal' Listing", accessed December 23, 2013
  6. ^ a b From the programme to the production.
  7. ^ Treadwell (1993, v).
  8. ^ " 'Machinal' Listing and Script, Royal National Theatre" (pdf), accessed December 23, 2013
  9. ^ Gioia, Michael. "Suzanne Bertish, Michael Cumpsty, Morgan Spector Will Join Rebecca Hall in 'Machinal'; Complete Broadway Cast Announced", October 22, 2013
  10. ^ Gould, Jack. "Television Reviews", The New York Times, p. X13, January 24, 1954
  11. ^ "Olivier Winners, 1994", accessed December 23, 2013
  12. ^ Gans, Andrew. "68th Annual Tony Awards Nominations Announced; 'Gentleman's Guide' Leads the Pack", April 29, 2014


External links[edit]