EDINBURGH 2017 - BWW Review: MORALE IS HIGH (SINCE WE GAVE UP HOPE), Northern Stage at Summerhall
Things really are rotten right now, aren't they? We've got resurgent racism, the Welfare State's continual erosion, a terrible economy and climate change. But will any of this get better in the next few years? Luckily, Ross McCaffrey has travelled to the future, and as part of this show he explains to friend Jake Walton and the audience what we can expect to change between now and then.
McCaffrey and Walton prove to be genial performers as they lead us through a series of fragmented vignettes and stories depicting events of the five years between now and the next General Election, accompanied by punk music, played live by the performers, that expresses their discontent with the current situation.
The show is highly politically aware, evidently being worked on right up until the Fringe began to make sure it is bang up to date. A story about a night's drinking with working-class old school friends highlights how the Conservatives and UKIP have capitalised on working-class discontent with narratives of division.
Fresh from his return to the cabinet, Michael Gove is predicted to be our next Prime Minister when Theresa May eventually succumbs to calls for her to step down, and McCaffrey delights the audience with his version of Gove's heavily plagiarised acceptance speech.
One issue is the show's tendency to jump around between its narratives. There is a moving story about a woman struggling with employment issues, highlighting the callousness of the government, job centres and bosses, but we are taken away to something else before we find out her eventual fate. The transitions are sharply handled, but it is frustrating to engage with stories like these, only to have them left unresolved.
One of the main thrusts of the production is that protesting changes little, sometimes even doing direct harm to a cause. Often, political theatre that does not call for a specific action or empower its audience to seek progress seems anaemic and something of a cop out. Here, however, it does have a point.
Angry tweets have failed to get rid of Trump, protests did not stop top-up fees, and despite reasonable anger against Tory austerity, they remain in power. Nevertheless, we need to express our anger and frustration somehow. In a sense, the show is a rage against the futility of raging against the machine.
The political side of the show may tend towards the cynical, but the performances are engaging, lightening the production with comic moments, and sometimes it is rather liberating just to acknowledge how powerless current events can make us feel.
The show does end on a positive note, with McCaffrey assuring us things will be looking up in 2022, but if hope for a better world is exhausting you, try blowing off some steam with Morale Is High (Since We Gave Up Hope).
Morale Is High (Since We Gave Up Hope) runs until August 20 at 10.15pm
Photo by Imogen Grey.