This is the story of the rise and fall of concrete tower blocks. Set in the late fifties, Machines for Living is a love story of two far-sighted architects whose vision is to create a modern utopia full of shared amenities, elevated walkways and lifts. However, their urban paradise is short-lived. Battling against maintenance issues, a lack of community spirit, and the Council, ‘Graceful Towers’ struggles against the test of time and the development of more private dwellings.
As if transported back in time, the monochrome colour scheme of the stark opening set creates the feel of a fifties television set. The entire play has an eerie mechanical atmosphere as the actors appear from amid the cut-out high-rise blocks and slip between dance and various characters like a well-oiled machine. The stark staging is well constructed; the rotating scenery mimics the actors’ mechanized movements and cleverly depicts the creation of the vast tower blocks that soon become the lovers’ downfall.
Whilst the plot of the original piece devised by the Let Slip company is not particularly groundbreaking, the cast really bring this seemingly dense subject matter to life. Dark humour underlies the performance, as the condemned couple battle figures such as Le Corbusier, the Swiss architect and devil’s advocate who spurs on their doomed vision, and the embodiment of ‘Community’ who becomes increasingly less spirited as things begin to fall apart. The slapstick elements provide the energy that holds the piece together, as the inevitable denouement evolves.
This is where momentum begins to stall. Although the characters remain animated, the plot loses pace as the predictable tragic ending approaches; tension peaks too soon and the story just fades out, leaving the audience feeling slightly flat. Machines for Living seems to intentionally avoid providing a moral to the story. However, given the worrying mechanisation evident in the title, a stronger message would have given the ending a more powerful impact.