Morale is High ( Since We Gave Up Hope )

Sat 5th – Sun 20th August 2017


Ela Portnoy

at 13:33 on 9th Aug 2017



‘Morale is High’ is a stand-up comedy – cum sketch show – cum rock concert – cum political rant, performed by two-man comedy troupe Powder Keg from Manchester. It is very mixed in style, with a lot of seriousness among the comedy which creates an eclectic but confusing atmosphere. The show is strangely written. There are moments of sharp comedy, but they are interspersed with drama and awkwardly long silences. The comedy is strong in parts; the performers received a good number of laughs. But often I found the mixture of comedy and seriousness arbitrary and messy. When the serious parts came just after a joke, it was not always obvious what was happening, and it made for an uncomfortable feeling as an audience member, where it seemed like the performers had lost control of the performance.

Nevertheless, some of the serious moments were well-written and nicely delivered. I enjoyed the story about Lindsey in particular. It was engaging, well-delivered and thought-provoking. The description of her journey to the studio and the imagery of her standing and smoking on the bridge was particularly evocative. I could see that Ross, in particular, was a strong storyteller. However, the sections of political rants were less interesting and at times I found my concentration drifting. Sometimes there wasn’t much motivation behind their inclusion. As I sat, I wondered how a conservative voter would have felt in the audience. I don’t think the performance would change anyone’s political opinion, but it would probably make a lot of people very uncomfortable and it was not particularly witty in these parts.

The best sections of the performance were the points in which politics was not forced in, but rather incidental. The songs were often nicely written and well-performed. I especially enjoyed the last, quiet number in which Ross sang low. I don’t remember how it went but it really caught my attention, and was reminiscent of George Ezra. The ironic song about being happy was also catchy – I found myself humming it as I walked home. I did like the use of lighting effects in the performance though, such as the Freddy Mercury-esque image of Ross in his glittery coat after the Michael Gove speech. The smoke worked well with this, to create a rock concert vibe.

My main gripe about the performance is that I wasn’t sure why a lot of things were included. For example, when they recited long lists of the world’s problems, or sang loud songs with unclear lyrics. It just seemed like there wasn’t an obvious reason to have these parts, as they made parts of the show boring, which was a shame when there were parts that were strong.


Kiya Evans

at 13:35 on 9th Aug 2017



‘Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope)’ is a darkly comic piece, presented by Powder Keg Theatre. Not only does it demonstrate from chemistry between both of its actors, but highlights their talents in music as well as drama, fusing moments of loud rock music and heavy bass with quick-paced storytelling. Although the premise - explaining what will happen between now and 2020 thanks to Ross’ ability to time travel - is interesting and original, the use of different mediums can be jarring. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and I think that audience members must dig deeper than the heavy handedness that comes across in the storytelling scenes to come to their own conclusions about what this show is trying to say.

The show alternates between moments of high energy rock music and more seriously toned, hard hitting sections. The lighter tone which is brought through from the comedy means that the audience is often made to reflect on the context of their laughter, realising that the humour comes through as a coping mechanism, placed in contrast with darker themes. What is perhaps most effective about the piece is that none of it feels unfamiliar, despite comprising of anecdotes about the future. It seemed that the audience felt able to laugh at this, demonstrating a recurring theme throughout the piece about surviving whatever comes next - all of the extras around the storytelling directly linked to coping mechanisms, and therefore it seems that retrospective thought about the piece is crucial to understanding the full extent of the show’s ‘messages’. The show is less concerned with actually predicting the future, instead trying to force us to look at the now.

Structurally, the show is a little confused, with the interjection of songs and the use of seemingly arbitrary anecdotal stories meaning that the show can sometimes not feel as slick as it could be. This is added to by a few slip ups in lines by Jake, or laughter from Ross. Whilst not necessarily a bad thing, and in fact helping to humanise the piece and its performers, it took away from the production value and at points felt messy. The transitions from acting and storytelling to music and singing, although jarring to experience, are pretty slick and impressive, and the talent possessed by both Jake and Ross is evident and ought to be experienced.

All in all, Morale is High (Since we gave up hope) is something which, despite its heavy-handedness surrounding politics, is frustratingly hard to pin down. The music is very good, all original, and the pair themselves are charming. I would say to go to Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope) with an open mind - there is much to be taken from this show, and it is particularly good at fusing together those dark and more light-hearted moments.


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