Once again, the Blue Elephant Theatre successfully provided me with a theatrical performance that satisfied my love for the arts in a witty, humorous, and intelligent fashion in their latest production, ‘Machines for Living.’
This is the third show I’ve seen here, and they have yet to let me down. Based on Le Corbusier’s famous phrase, “the house is a machine for living in,” this performance artfully and humorously depicts the drama that results from Corbusier’s influence on a young, impressionable, and driven couple of architects in the 1950s and 60s.
At the height of the architectural movement Brutalism, a movement whose focus was on primary forms, towering cement buildings, and angular geometries, the two architect protagonists fall in love (there is an instant attraction once they realize they share the same burning passion for cement), and together design a Tower Block housing building with a Brutalist design and a focus on community.
After years of hard work, surely sweating beads of primary geometric shapes and dreaming of straight lines and rigid forms, the couple’s design is built and new tenants move in, hoping for “blue skies living” in their new, ultra-modernist housing block.
All hopes are high, the couple having finally achieved their dream architectural project, a Modernist utopia, but after just a few years, the building is dilapidated, the cockroaches get cozy with the tenants, and the blame falls on the couple. Dripping in dark humor, the performance mocks the idea of architectural movements and designs that are so conceptual that they can easily fall short under the pressures of physical reality.
This performance deals with both architecture and human emotions, and artfully combines the two with visual craft and creative modes of representation. The actors do an excellent job portraying typical architects in a humorous way, and they show the almost hypnotic effect Corbusier has on them. As a whole, ‘Machines for Living’ embodies the heart and soul of modernist architecture – simplicity is maintained in its stage design and props, and the focus on straight lines and primary forms is even depicted in the choreography of the actors as they march in zig-zags, squares, and triangular processions around the stage. At other times, the performance depicts the passing of time and human emotion in beautiful artistic spectacles. The combination of these two modes of representation results in a dynamic interplay of the human and the machine.
Although their props are simple and they have very few of them, the actors make the most out of them in visually attractive ways. One particular scene involves an overhead projector and several clear projector papers – but with the lighting, the distorted angle of the projected images on the wall, and the movements of the dancer as her shadow moved against the wall, the ‘simple’ props became the source of a beautiful, emotional, artistic scene.
I also appreciated how they portrayed ‘Community’ – Community is personified and has her own character. She shows us how she changes and deteriorates after the failures of the housing project, starting as an innocent, joyful woman who is almost dog-like in her energy and enthusiasm, and ending up as a crazy, psychologically damaged drunkard.
The show has hints of satire in its dark comedic style. It satirizes the nature of architectural movements, how they come into fashion so quickly and with such promise, but go out of fashion just as quickly. The idea that “a house is a machine for living in” is examined and questioned as the lives of the protagonists crumble at the feet of their Corbusier-inspired creation.
A humorous, intelligent, and visually attractive drama, ‘Machines for Living’ is bound to draw you in and make you laugh. Be sure to watch ‘Machines for Living,’ which is on until 16 June, at the Blue Elephant Theatre.