Machinal's Emily Berrington: 'The writer would be gutted we still need to do this play'

Machinal: Director Natalie Abrahami and star Emily Berrington: Dave Benett
Machinal: Director Natalie Abrahami and star Emily Berrington: Dave Benett

The writer of the feminist classic Machinal would be “gutted” to know how relevant the 1928 play still is, according to the star of a revival at the Almeida Theatre.

Emily Berrington’s character Helen is driven to murder by the pressures of work, marriage and motherhood.

The actress, 29, said she was amazed by how contemporary the play by American writer Sophie Treadwell was, but added: “What we kept saying was that rather than saying the play is modern it actually means that we live in times that are still backward.

“We think things have changed from 1928 and of course many things have, but the themes of this play have not changed very much.

“You open the paper everyday and there will be something about what it’s like balancing work and life and being a mother and what it’s like to be in a workplace environment with a predatory employer.

“Those are things that are so current and in the last year have been on the front page of every newspaper, so I think she would be a bit gutted that we still need to do this play.”

Berrington, is currently appearing on Channel 4 in science-fiction drama Humans, alongside Gemma Chan. She also made an impact appearing as the title role in The Miniaturist on the BBC. She said going into rehearsals as Ireland voted to remove its constitutional ban on abortion brought home how far-sighted its writer was.

“This play is in many ways more controversial now, challenging institutions like marriage and motherhood, so to imagine what that was like 90 years ago is pretty astonishing and maybe people weren’t ready for it then,” Berrington said.

She added that Treadwell, who died in 1970, was “wrongfully forgotten”.

“I never thought this play was 90 years old when I first read it, the language she uses is so of now,” Berrington said. “It’s like she can see the future but sadly she probably saw it as where some of these things had started to change by now.”

Berrington said the “intense” play, which starts with her character commuting to work and ends with her on death row, takes “a massive amount of energy”.

She said: “It’s only short but so much is packed into that hour and 20 minutes and the journey of the play is massive so in many ways it crosses 90 years.”

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