Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Powerhouse Town ( GM Fringe)

Stephen Dodwell
Made It Theatre Company
53 Two, Manchester
24 July 2018 to 27 July 2018

Stephen Dodwell’s Powerhouse Town is a play with a difference: it is told entirely in blank verse. Half a dozen characters assemble in a betting shop to try their luck and share their misfortunes. An immigrant working as a care assistant is routinely abused verbally by her clients. A trade unionist has to accept he has lost not just the battle but the class war. A failed entrepreneur wonders if he might be able to attract the embittered divorcee who runs the bookies, and a cabbie dresses as Elvis as a gimmick. The final customer, however, has more on his mind than placing a bet.

Technically the play is impressive, with the blank verse being dour but at times grimly funny and delivered with real passion by a committed cast. Social awareness and class consciousness are themes that run through Powerhouse Town, which articulates the feelings of the forgotten underclass. However, what might have been intended as a call to arms is offset by an overwhelming feeling of resignation.

The characters are so beaten down by their experiences that they remain passive even in the face of danger. It is as if violence is regarded as just another thing gone wrong in their lives and scarcely worth remarking on, let alone resisting. The death of a character is accepted stoically by the others. The opinions in the play – that successive governments have made the UK a playground for the rich while the working class has been reduced to servants – are so familiar it is hard to feel the strong emotions that ought to be generated by such revelations.

Powerhouse Town lacks a plotline strong enough to draw the threads of the individual stories together to form a cohesive whole. Director Amanda Hennessy adds the occasional theatrical spark with the cast stepping out of character to form a picket line but concentrates mainly on getting the speeches right. The play is, therefore, close to being a series of monologues which describe the characters and set out their backstories and motivations. It is a lot of detail to absorb and, as everything is conveyed verbally with so little physical action, concentration becomes an issue.

Over-familiarity with the viewpoints expressed in Powerhouse Town limits their effectiveness. It is hard to engage emotionally with characters who have lost all hope, so, despite the powerful performances and imaginative technique using blank verse, the play does not provoke the strong feelings that one might expect.

Reviewer: David Cunningham