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Posted on: 13/05/2021

The first topic explored during the Drama A Level is the play ‘Machinal’, by Sophie Treadwell. Set in America during the 1920s it explores how outsiders in society are actively penalised by the ‘Machine’ that our community is run by. Sophie Treadwell bases the Protagonist (Young Woman) on Ruth Snyder, the first woman to be executed by Electric Chair at Sing Sing Prison in 1988 since Martha Place in 1928. 

While Machinal is part of the written exam, students have the opportunity to put their practical, artistic and note taking skills in action, as we find that to truly put a student in the mindset of a Director or Set Designer they have to explore the characters and set first in as many ways possible. 

Within the attached photos (Group 1: Joel, Eleanor, Paris and Olivia Group 2: Agnija, Maisie, Morgan and Leah) are exploring Machinal through the use of Puppetry and Freeze Frame. Machinal is an Expressionist play, which focuses on one person’s experience, so each freeze frame and photo highlights Young Woman and her view of the characters surrounding her. 

Both groups had to consider the symbolic meaning behind each of their chosen Freeze Frames in line with Sophie Treadwell’s aims for Machinal. Group 1 focused on the concept of hierarchy and fitting into a specific ‘box’ within society; while Group 2 focused on the symbolism and foreshadowing of Young Woman’s death at the end of the play, by placing her in the centre of a ‘hospital bed’ styled as a coffin. 

Alongside their practical work, for each Episode, students have to write notes on their own performance and design concepts to support revision. Some of the attached photos of work are provided by Joel, Agnija and Eleanor, who created 2D and 3D designs. Noticeably, Eleanor created a miniature version of the Electric Chair used in Episode 9. Joel used Biblical imagery with Bibles coming from the ceiling as the Priest reads the Young Woman’s last rights, and Agnija uses the cogs of machinery to a varying degree in each Episode. The more visible cogs symbolise the more trapped the Young Woman feels, while the less cogs visible, the more freedom she is experiencing, either physically or metaphorically. 

As a result of the lesson, the Drama students found that physicalising Young Woman’s trapped mentality within the play allowed them to create a more abstract piece of Drama, particularly when including puppetry; showing how they as the puppeteers can represent 1920s society for her.

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