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Machines for Living, Battersea Arts Centre

Originally devised by Let Slip Theatre
Redeveloped by Crank Theatre

Pros: Clever, quirky, visually striking, fun, and thought-provoking.

Cons: A few bits were hard to follow, and a fuller conclusion would have been welcome.

Our Verdict: A great first piece for Crank Theatre; lots of fun and very smart!

Courtesy of Battersea Arts Centre

Crank Theatre and their inaugural production of Machines for Living at the Battersea Arts Centre this week were born from Let Slip’s original production of the show at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The script follows the rise and fall of the Hardys, a husband and wife architect team, and through movement, smart staging, design, and dialogue paints a portrait of good intentions gone wrong, displaying the fragility of both concrete structures and relationships.

We follow the Hardys through their romance with each other and with concrete; together, and with the help of abstract representations of community and the founder of the architectural style ‘brutalism,’ they design an award-winning social housing system, meant to provide homes and comfort for as many people as possible. The script seems influenced by the Biblical Fall, beginning with the Hardy’s inspirational figure intoning the words “In the beginning there was light…”, and continuing to echo Adam and Eve as the couple reach toward the heavens but fall away from their original design by taking short-cuts and quarreling.

Movement and dance are used throughout – in most cases these were welcome and interesting additions to the script, although there were some instances in which it went on for quite a long time and you lost the sense of what was happening with the plot. Even so, the way the cast used their bodies kept these moments captivating, even when confusing. Along a similar vein, Crank is able to keep information about architecture – necessary to the plotline – from coming off as too expository or dry; the script is intelligent but approachable, keeping you engaged even if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on.

The production as a whole is tight and polished – the four-member cast handles drama, comedy, and dance with expertise, and crafts a unique and engrossing world. Beyond the excellent cast, the design is simple and effective – two versatile, three-dimension structures are utilized to create various interiors and exteriors and the play moves effectively through times and spaces. Minimal props are used to perfection – suitcases easily become windows and elevator doors, two black wire chairs are used for every piece of furniture. Adding to the minimal, sharp design so appropriate for a play about architecture is the all black-and white color scheme. Costumes, props, set, and lighting are all limited to black and white, cleverly constructing the feeling of watching a black and white film.

One last kudos to the cast, who manage all scenic changes, portray various characters, and who successfully deliver the unique and quirky script through their bodies and voices. Machines for Living achieves what many shows aim for but fail to do: it entertains and thrills while simultaneously saying something interesting and poignant.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Machines for Living runs until 8th December 2012 at the Battersea Arts Centre.
Box Office: 020 7223 2223 or book online at http://www.bac.org.uk/whats-on/machines-living/tickets/

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