Adding Machine: A Musical at Finborough Theatre Online
Adding Machine: A Musical is a musical satire based on Elmer Rice’s play The Adding Machine about the life of Mr Zero, a slaving number-cruncher for a department store. After 25 years of service, Mr Zero is told by his boss that it is time to leave, as his job is being replaced by a machine. As a result, Mr Zero decides to murder his boss, causing a cascade of events including his execution and his transportation to the Elysian Fields.
The musical recalls 1920s American Expressionism through a very unconventional score and libretto, written by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt, which pushes the rhythmic and tonal boundaries of a standard musical. Schmidt’s predominantly minor-keyed material creates a jerky and, at times, off-putting effect – nonetheless, it makes the audience work to keep up. Despite the extreme highs and lows, the music is beautifully integrated with lovely scenes interlacing dialogue and song.
The musical layer propels the comedic and satirical nature of the piece: the character chorus and principals are humorous in their vocal performances, as well as in their dialogue. This is particularly true of scenes between Mr Zero, played by Joseph Alessi, and his wife, played by Kate Milner-Evans. Milner-Evans’s frustration with her husband is both amusing and effective in showcasing her incredible vocal range and ability.
Chi-san Howard’s physical direction is wonderful in the hands of a very astute cast. Each chorus member, a cog in the machine, moves robotically about the small stage, performing individual repetitions in perfect time. Howard portrays the monotony of their repetitive tasks but also the mechanical precision of the machine itself, bringing Mr Zero’s predicament into sharp focus.
The set design by Frankie Bradshaw is a real asset. The audience surround the minimally dressed central stage, allowing for the chorus’s strong physicality to shine through. The production finishes with a pool of water emerging in the centre – presumably replicating the fluid freedom of Mr Zero, following his execution and entrance into the Elysian Fields.
Despite the challenging musical reimagining, the strong direction from Josh Seymour ensures that the concept of Adding Machine stands the test of time. As the world progresses and technology becomes an ever permanent feature in our lives, so does the growing fear of it taking over.
Photo: Alex Brenner
Adding Machine: A Musical is available to stream online from 28th September until 12th November 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.