STEP Young Critic reviews 'Machines for Living' at Blue Elephant Theatre

'Machines for Living' by Let Slip Theatre

At the Blue Elephant Theatre

A politically minded physical theatre production by Let Slip Theatre Company was perfectly situated in the heart of a number of council estates at the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell. The location gave a site specific feel to this performance, as Machines for Living is an innovative black comedy, satirically highlighting the problems in society and identifying 1950’s architecture as the main cause.

Four actors played a number of diverse roles effectively. This was imaginatively shown through simple costume changes to establish character. Two architects, played by India Banks and David Ralfe, with a shared love of concrete and each other, worked together to design the “perfect housing” for the 1950’s world, the flats they create are supposedly ‘blue sky thinking’, with walkways and balconies which hope to bring the community together. The audience sees the gradual disintegration of the couples’ innovative idea as the building becomes overrun by mould and cockroaches and this is reflected in the breakdown of their relationship. Community, played by Nicole Pschetz, is a personified character who is introduced as being extremely puppy-like, yearning for the affections of all and then develops into a metaphor for the community of the 1970’s, shown through excessive drinking and slight madness, thus exposing the conflict between the built environment and community spirit. Although an excellent performance was given by Pschetz, I felt the metaphor was spelt out a little too literally that it started to border on insulting to any intelligence the audience may have.
Lighting and minimalist set was used commendably, designed by Christina Hardinge (set) and Ralph Stokeld (lighting. Lighting creatively and effectively enhanced the performance alongside a beautiful use of an old projector on which the company mixed interpretive dance and sharp lines drawn and projected onto the rear wall. Two structures were moved by the company to create a number of places, both the interior and exterior of the building as well as hosting several architectural conferences where the heightened characters of another architectural couple, George and Georgette, played by Frode Gjerløw and Nicole Pschetz, were introduced. Frode Gjerløw gave an outstanding performance through his extremely comical archetypes, however he did not steal the show from the two protagonists which I felt was an honourable yet challenging task and they did not delve into their relationship enough and came across at times as quite flat.

However it was a refreshing and thought provoking play, giving a new perspective on the tragic reality of the housing surrounding the theatre itself. Let Slip have taken a contemporary urban geographical issue and ingeniously used the backdrop of regeneration in Camberwell to create a brilliant satirically comedic play, forcing the audience to evaluate on the history of the housing issues which face us. The marriage of the arts, psycho-geography and physical theatre is brave and refreshing.

By Madeleine Corner