The Winston Machine is a typically probing and playful work from Kandinsky theatre, shot through with music and mischief. It’s about a young woman called Becky who dreams of the 1940s and the dashing wartime romance between her grandparents, while planning to buy a house in a town she does not like, with a boyfriend she does not love. It’s a rich production, which dances nimbly across the decades and explores how our links with the past can be a joyful and enriching thing – but painful, misleading and crushingly claustrophobic, too.
Directed with head-rushing freedom by James Yeatman and with deft dramaturgy from Lauren Mooney, this show is also about communication. And noise. The scenes in the present are full of clamour: a cacophony of constant distraction. Becky’s boyfriend tries to get her to look at their house listing on the internet but, in one continuous line of speech (which Hamish MacDougall delivers with such skill and humour), he also vocalises everything else that Becky is looking at on her laptop screen: Instagram feeds, Facebook likes and, of course, pictures of cats.
The present might be closest to us, suggests Kandinsky, but with all that scrolling and clicking it can also feel very far away. What are the feelings and experiences, then, that help to keep us grounded? Music. Definitely music. Becky (Rachel-Leah Hosker) is a singer and the way she most easily accesses the past is through song. Vera Lynn. Summertime. Songs rise up through the cracks between the past and present and – with Hosker’s deep and beautifully centred voice – hold everything still.
Nathaniel Christian, in a strikingly mature professional stage debut, plays the romance in Becky’s life. He is her pilot grandfather and he is also Lewis, an old friend and successful musician recently returned home from London. Christian spends a lot of time wearing a blue RAF jacket. The picture of a hero. But as the scenes fracture and deepen, that heroic image blurs. Becky’s grandfather wasn’t always a good person. Lewis’s career has barely even begun. It’s all just a matter of perspective.