Adding Machine: A Musical
Composed by Joshua Schmidt.
Libretto by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt, based on the play by Elmer Rice.
Director: Josh Seymour.
Producer: Alex Turner Productions in association with SDWC Productions.
Cast: Joseph Alessi, Sue Appleby, Edd Campbell Bird, James Dinsmore, Joanna Kirkland, Kate Milner-Evans, George Rae, Helen Walsh.
Available online until November 12
London’s Finborough has a long-standing tradition of staging fearless writing and in the depth of pandemic theatre darkness, it hasn’t lost its edge.
Its online version of Elmer Rice’s 1923 satire on wage slavery has dissonant force as people across the globe, not least in theatre, are told their jobs no longer exist.
What we watch from our tablets or computer screens is a film of Finborough’s 2016 production, based on Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt’s Adding Machine: A Musical, premiered in the United States in 2007 around the time of the financial crisis and another great wave of redundancies.
Music can sugar-coat, but in this instance, it serves to reinforce the uncomfortableness of Rice’s expressionist play The Adding Machine, which literally is unrealistic, but emotionally spot on.
The antihero Mr Zero’s big moment of lyrical harmony is a song about dreaming in figures. All his human relationships are characterised by stubborn silence, missed opportunities and hostility, accompanied by violent, modern, nerve-jangling chords and stressful intervals.
Zero, played by a stoical Joseph Alessi, considers himself “a regular guy” – and that, apparently, is compatible with racism and anger that drives him to commit murder when he’s told that his position of adding up in a department store is redundant and will be carried out by a machine.
His pitiable state still earns our sympathy as the strident Mrs Zero (Kate Milner-Evans) yells at him even as he awaits hanging. Her screams undo all the good of a tender reconciliation after she had brought him his chosen last supper of ham and eggs.
Based as this is on an expressionist take on reality, death is not the end. Instead we are transported to a kitsch version of the Elysian Fields with neon signs and a swimming pool to lounge beside, where Zero is reunited with his love interest Daisy (Joanna Kirkland).
Zero is of course incapable of grasping a happy ending. All he wants is the simplicity of numbers and to fill his days with adding up.
The uncomfortable truth for him, as for all humans, is that change is inevitable and adaptation essential. This grainy, online version of the message makes that painfully clear.
Barbara Lewis © 2020.