Let Slip's new play Machines for Living, an absurdist nightmare on the brutalist architecture of post-war social housing, emphasises this young company's Lecoq training with a strong physical theatre influence and plenty of clowning and mime. The result is watchable and enjoyable, but lacks an emotional core - as such, it's fascinating, but a little cold; not unlike the architecture it is discussing.
Machines for Living takes its title from Le Corbusier, often called the pioneer of modern architecture, who famously asserted that the house should become a "machine for living in", inspired by Fordism and mass production. Set in the late 1950s/early 60s, we follow the tale of two architects in turn inspired by Le Corbusier's brutalist movement - which tried to return architecture to basic shapes and stark, honest buildings that didn't hide their structural form. If that's a bit dense for you, think of the classic tower block - which, incidentally, is what the lead actors suggest as a new type of social housing, to replace poor quality post-war housing and slums. But we all know where this story goes - the tower block becomes the mismanaged council estate, but is it the architects' fault?
It's a pretty fascinating topic - are we the product of our surroundings, or do we assert our own identities on our spaces? And did the brutalist movement lead to some of the social issues within their spaces? Let Slip cleverly cover a lot of intellectual ground here, using frequent costume changes and classic physical theatre techniques - we see various characters and thematic representations interacting in both real and unreal scenarios, all on a relatively spartan set. Two racks of shapes (and a mostly monochrome design) remind heavily of German Expressionism. It's all very inventive and clever.
But there's no heart to this tale - possibly because there isn't supposed to be, but that's still a failing. The tale of the two architects is quite tragic, but their story is told with no passion or enthusiasm - the beautifully choreographed and delicate movements stand in the way of their relationship being anything more than a static image, and the result means that, while the topic and the style in which it is being elucidated are very interesting, there are no emotional ties here whatsoever. It's hard to care about anything that's happening on stage beyond a studied interest.
There's also a rather difficult, unshakeable feeling that this is all just a little bit naff. Four characters in black turtlenecks, absurdist nightmare sequences and characters representing larger themes reminds a little too painfully of the hideously caricatured art theatre of the late 20th century. If this is a parody of that kind of theatre, its purpose isn't clear.
However, if you ignore some of the stranger stylistic choices and accept that you won't feel particularly emotionally involved, this is an interesting piece with lots of interesting things to say - and there's nothing wrong with that. It just feels a little old-fashioned and - dare I say it - outdated. A little more of an emotional bite would certainly help here.