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Review: Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope) @ Contact Theatre

  • Manchester-based theatre company Powder Keg give Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope) a homecoming performance at Contact Theatre
  • Northern Quota reporter John Stennings reviews
  • ★★★

In this digressive yet affable piece of gig-theatre by Manchester-based theatre company Powder Keg, Ross McCaffery and Jake Walton drag us through a whirlwind of political rants, inane day to day life and bite-sized punk rock.

In a year that saw the UK begin its departure from the European Union and Donald Trump wage war on North Korea via Twitter, Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope) is certainly a show that’s fretting away at global happenings and tells of how we, as tiny, insignificant human beings are supposed to deal with them.

Troubles are expressed in a tense to-and-fro between two friends, Ross and Jake. Despite the serious subject matter, the relationship between the two is vibrant: Jake’s calmness is contrasting with Ross’s frantic anger, while Ross confronts Jake’s couldn’t-care-less naivety towards politics. Ross has made a trip to 2020 and back, returning to warn the audience of what is to come – a shimmering, silver Primark jacket of the future as his time travel testimony.

The tangle of tales that Ross tells from the future are fun and engaging, offering welcoming breaks amongst the show’s political agenda. Through humorous tales of drug-infused, last minute trips to Barcelona and gate-crashing the future Prime Minister’s house, you start to question whether this is a political report from 2020 or merely an exaggerated way for Ross to tell Jake about his adventures.

But Morale is High is less about offering a vision in to the world that is yet to come, than it is about questioning where the world is now. Ross’s stories bring us the same unanswerable questions that the present day has to offer. A narrative of a young woman with hopes and dreams working in an unfulfilling zero-hours job takes the audience through a series of emotions by first, presenting a positive pitch before shattering it and dragging the audience back down to earth.

At abrupt intervals, the guitars at the back of the stage are acquired for snippets of song, some delicately executed, some screamed and inaudible. It’s raw and disjointed but this is not necessarily to its detriment, as the audience are brought out of their theatrical comfort zone. The variety in song embodies the anger and despair of the current state of the world; this is a chaotic piece of theatre during chaotic times.

Amidst the chaos, Morale is High is a sophisticated and contemporary piece of original thinking. At a time where the UK – no, the world – couldn’t possibly feel further apart, Powder Keg offer a realistic outlook on the things that divide us. “You can’t just get rid of the things you don’t like,” Ross snaps at Jake, offering a stark realisation of the world that we live in.

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