Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope)

Written and devised by the company

Powder Keg

Camden People's Theatre

From 25 January 2017 to 26 January 2017

Review by Keith Mckenna

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We didn’t need Brexit to tell us there has been a growing disenchantment with the way society is run. Go into any Northern town and look at the once thriving workplaces deserted, the libraries closed or "redeveloped" and the homes boarded up. It is probably a long time since many people said things are getting better.

There isn’t a great deal of enthusiasm for things remaining as they are, but it’s not entirely clear what people want instead.

The theatre company Powder Keg reflects this in the opening verbal banter between Jake Walton and Ross McCaffrey in its show Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope).

It includes Jake evoking the communal celebration of a demonstration in which food is given out and a woman stands on a bollard reciting to the marchers some of the inspiring lines from Shelly’s poem The Masque of Anarchy, which was originally written about the Manchester Peterloo massacre.

No mention is made of what this particular demonstration is for and Ross cynically points out that such demonstrations can be violent and destructive.

Ross decides he will take a trip into the future for some insight into the present situation, and comes back wearing a shiny Primark future jacket and stories of drinking, and a trip to the home of the then Prime Minister, the very charming friendly Michael Gove. Ross even suggests people in that future time are happy, though when Jake asks him what happened to all those political crises of today from Syria to austerity he has no reply.

The heart of the show comes later when the pair tell a powerful, riveting story of the woman Lyndsey’s journey from being happy and hopeful to the misery of a new zero-hours contract, a degraded benefit system that has ceased to be useful and the tedious slide into debt. All of which lead her to calmly decide on a desperate political act.

This story is moving and told without sentimentality in a manner that held the anger just below the surface. It left us wanting to know more.

That is the section of the play that clearly identifies specific issues that are wrong with the world. Much of the rest remains vague and unfocused as if wanting to replicate the uncertainties of the times.

The music is great and there is a good deal of humorous banter from the pair of talented performers. I also never tired of hearing their stories.

If only it had a less fragmentary structure, and some greater clarity of purpose. There is too often the feeling they are creating something that is politically and dramatically fence-sitting and that is surely not the place they wanted theatre to be.