Originally published on The Reviews Hub
Awarded 3.5 stars – A progressive experiment
The monotonous repetition of a production line, the comfort in its cold, robotic predictability. The Stepford Wives 100 years previously without the uncertainty of human emotion, Adding Machine: A Musical certainly isn’t afraid to take a risk. Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt adapt Elmer Rice’s play into a progressive rock musical full of ideas and inspiration, a mêlée of thought without concise direction or focus.
Loewith and Schmidt incorporate elements of jazz, gospel, rock opera, even a touch of Sondheim, and that’s just in the musical score. Ben Ferguson directs the reduced band from the piano-cum-synthesiser, with some extra synthesiser and percussive pads added in for good measure. The result is highly stylised, at times in keeping with the offbeat nature of the plot yet at others so in conflict that the overall effect is bone-crunching and jarring. Schmidt’s compositions hark back to the progressive experimentation of Andrew Lloyd Webber, a fusion of styles that culminates in a virtuosic assault on the senses. As with Lloyd Webber in his early days, to be so out of the box and left-field implicitly implies that some notes will hit the mark and some will leave an audience completely baffled.
A self-proclaimed “anti-musical”, Adding Machine is a cheerful yet simultaneously macabre look at a dystopian past, a world in which Mr Zero (Joseph Alessi) finds comfort and safety in the daily routine so that he doesn’t have to confront his drab, stagnant marriage to Mrs Zero (Kate Milner-Evans) or his suppressed affection for Daisy (Joanna Kirkland). The problem with bottling in emotion is, when Mr Zero’s role is ironically replaced with the machine that he seems so dedicated to emulating, all manner of feelings explode outwards with volcanic force, spraying the fragments of an already fragile sanity across the stage. The ferocity of this outburst is a well-judged contrast to the otherwise intentionally monochrome protagonist that Alessi portrays, an acting performance that doesn’t have the musical strength to support the highly chromatic composition demanded of it.
Schmidt characterises the two opposing female influences deliberately in the score; Milner-Evans soars into the heavens with a highly operatic and over the top soprano, whilst Kirkland floats an octave lower with more melodious tones to emphasise tender, passionate qualities. Both give strong performances that can be improved with a firmer grip on the vocals – moments teeter dangerously close to being far too shrill or nasal. But in a production full of polarisation, the two leading ladies offset each other and create an overall balance in a tumultuous environment. Edd Campbell Bird’s Shrdlu epitomises the knife-edge that Adding Machine actively places itself on – a devoutly religious caricature, Campbell Bird contains the innate ability to flip a switch and instantly bounce between characters within himself. Small snippets of insanity creep in from the start but manifest themselves in the afterlife’s paddling pool with absurdly powerful effect.
If Schmidt and Loewith’s intentions are to inflict confusion and chaos, Adding Machine: The Musical certainly hits its mark. The target it aims for, however, is still shrouded in mystery. At times a pastiche, at times intellectually thought-provoking, the only label this deliberately eschews is “safe”. A brave yet expected choice for a theatre that champions bold, unique writing.
Writers: Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt
Director: Josh Seymour
Runs until 22 October 2016 | Image: Contributed