Written by Josh Coates, Emma Geraghty, Ross McCaffrey, Hannah Mook and Jake Walton
Directed by Powder Keg
Part of PUSH Festival
HOME at Anthony Burgess Institute, Manchester
This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub and published here.
The title is a contradiction, appropriately – after all, this is the nonsensical era of Brexit and Trump. But what will the future bring? In the post-industrial surroundings of the International Anthony Burgess Institute, Powder Keg want to talk about what happens between now and the next General Election in 2020. Jake Walton and Ross McCaffrey take to the stage to shout, wheedle and grandstand each other into making predictions in this constantly engaging whirlwind of a show.
Morale is High is a mixture of music and theatre, adding guitar numbers in a range of styles to its two-handed storytelling. It has been running for months before coming to Manchester as part of HOME’s PUSH festival. The script must have been tweaked over time, as it reflects up-to-the-minute fears about our collective doom. But there’s material here that goes wider too, drawing on the whole political era of austerity, divisiveness, and disillusionment.
Having said that, the political commentary never gets very specific. McCaffrey and Walton keep trying to tell us about the future, but the personal gets mixed up in the political. Alcohol binges and personal troubles intertwine with the answers to questions like ‘Who is going to be the next Prime Minister?’
None of the fragmented narratives ever ends, each performer undercutting and interrupting the other. They come together beautifully, however, on a segment describing the downward spiral of one woman, so affected by government cuts that she eventually takes drastic action. It’s a high point of the show – sketched out in careful detail, the tension expertly built by the performers. This part is theatrical magic.
Music functions partly as a palate cleanser, with mumbled shoegaze numbers and punk chaos interspersed between spoken sections of the performance. There are a few moments, though, where it works cleverly in tandem with the script, such as the thrashy title track, or the time when a sour-faced McCaffrey picks up the guitar and starts playing an incongruously cheerful tune.
If Morale is High is disjointed, at times vague, chaotic, and short of conclusions, that’s all rather appropriate given what the show is about. It’s not a rallying-cry to change the future, but rather an hour of questions about it, few of which can be answered to anyone’s satisfaction. And while clarity may be lacking, feeling and power are not.
Star rating: **** Powerful and engaging