Thursday, 6 December 2012

Machines For Living - review

Written by: Sophie Talbot (@sophietalbot_91)

Battersea Arts Centre, London

Crank Theatre’s devised piece is ambitious, aiming to explore the relationship between architecture and community during Britain’s 1950s high-rise flats era. The company show promise but ultimately fall short of a sky-high production.

Wendy (India Banks) and Roger (Hugh Grant-Peterkin) are married architects pioneering a new way of living to combat poor post-war living conditions. Influenced by Swiss architect, Le Corbusier and the Brutalism movement the pair design high-rise flats which conform to perfect geometric forms. They are mass produced, uniformed, efficient homes; machines for living. The couple christen their creations ‘graceful towers’ and dream of their concrete built flats - with shared walkways - formulating a harmonious community.

The monochrome, angular theme of the set and costume creates an impassive atmosphere, effectively reinforcing the dramatic irony the audience behold regarding high-rise flats and their association with modern dystopia. We see Corbusier - rigidly articulated by the brilliant Frode Gjerlow – attempt to hypnotise the high rise flat ‘Community’, entertainingly personified by Nessa Norich, and the imposition of architects on the community is patent. The cast show the decline and rotting of the flats - as a result of cheap building materials and neglected maintenance - through an inventive montage whereby white, flat, wooden ‘suitcases’ transform from broken lifts into stiff windows. Norich energetically displays the progressive weariness of ‘Community’ and strikingly illuminates the correlation between the collapse of community and architectural design. Crank achieve what they set out to do and show that the mass produced dreams of Corbusier, Roger and Wendy, numb the complex minds and the spirit of the community who live in such conditions. People cannot live in machines because they are not machines. However, with no opportunity of emotional investment or any hints of the broader scope of the topic, the company fail to give the piece substance in an age where we are inundated with new housing estates.

The Lecoq inspired style compliments the company’s aim. In a stand-out scene, the versatile Norich transforms effortlessly with a spin into four different neighbours in the flats, encapsulating an entire community through varying defined and sprightly postures. We sense the hostility and anger of these neighbours as a result of the neglected state of their homes. Norich captures a community whom without private space have de-identified with their surroundings and have disregard for the shared spaces and each other (social animosity Roger and Wendy hadn’t foreseen). Despite evident physical proficiency amongst the Lecoq school graduates their movement sequences at times seemed purposeless, such as a frenzied routine depicting members of the community attempting to rally together to restore the flats, even though it had just been described.

The relationship between protagonists Roger and Wendy was also undeveloped and cliché dialogue made it clear that Crank is in its early stages. Despite clear ambition, talent and some well-crafted moments, Machines for Living compares to the high rise flats it explores: a promising enterprise which reaches for the skies but doesn’t make it.

This production runs until 8 December 2012. 
@battersea_arts @cranktheatre 

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