There came a point about two thirds of the way through Strict Machine when I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Are they taking the piss?’. I had tried hard to interpret the physical dancing of the two women on stage as well as possible when suddenly I had an epiphany. During one scene I understood fully that they were competing to impress a man at a bar and when they each pulled out a trumpet it was because they were, literally, blowing their own trumpet. Feeling very proud of myself for solving this particular puzzle I allowed myself a smug sit back in my chair. And then the projector, which until now had cast only obscure images onto the back screen, shone the simple message, ‘Blow your own trumpet’. My smug sense of self-satisfaction was destroyed in one quasi-literal blow.
Thankfully my sense of pride did not get in the way of my enjoying an energetic piece of theatre. The foreboding introductory song that was sung by performers Abbi Greenland and Helen Gaolen set out the theme of the show of women struggling against each other to succeed in business and from there they launched into a series of eclectic dances that conveyed the story.
At times it was difficult to see exactly what message the two were trying to convey (hence my pride at interpreting the bar scene) but the divide in personalities set up between the two women in the introduction and the twitchy, manic physicality with which they threw themselves about the stage was more than enough to keep the audience interested and curious to see how the next dance would fit into the story.
It’s difficult to know how to comment on the feminist theme that ran throughout of the decisions women have to make between adopting a dominant, male strategy in business compared to that of the more feminine approach, because men never have to make that kind of decision, but Strict Machine made clear the kind of conflict that arises between women as a result of such decisions. The moment that one changed from wearing a skirt to trousers, the other was entirely subservient and eventually physically destroyed. It was touching to see the remorse felt and the eventual reconciliation between the two, something that would be noticeably absent from a male interpretation of surviving in business.
The music that accompanied the dancing was for the most part electronic and synth heavy, fitting perfectly with the routine-driven business world the characters inhabited but the transitions between songs could have been smoother. One could almost hear the sound engineer clicking ‘next song’ on the iPod. The use of a projector was also largely superfluous and distracting (and ruined my one moment of clarity) but as a whole it was a pleasurable and interesting forty minutes.