Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Comedians Theatre Company
Venue: Stand Comedy Club
Powerful interpretation of Gregory Burke’s homily to the dying days of communism seen through the eyes of two Fifers bent on making a point against their capitalist oppressors, if only they could find one.
Endogenous growth theory was only a twinkle in Gordon Brown’s eye when Burke’s Gagarin Way first hit the headlines in 2001. I never understood what it was, but it sounded good and it was meant to signal the end of the boom and bust economy. After all, we were told, markets know what they are doing so we can have what we want and when we want it.
Eight years on and capitalism’s credibility lies tarnished, if not in tatters. But then “the more outlandish the intellectual pish, the more they fall for it” as Eddie, the central character in this cracking drama, says. And we fell for it all right, big time.
So is Burke a prophet in disguise, or is it serendipitous that his work has a new found relevance? Back in 2001, portraying Gary and Eddie, two warehouse workers, as pseudo-communists from Fife (probably the last place on the planet to harbour such idylls), might have been seen as making fun of a stereotype woefully out of touch with societal thinking. Fast forward to the present day when the laws of capitalist economics have just imploded so spectacularly and their ideology has a striking resonance.
Gary and Eddie fear the axe is about to fall on their mundane, if economically essential, existence in a semi-conductor factory in Fife. They plan to kidnap the Japanese head of the company when he visits, demand their workers’ rights and, presumably, jobs for life. But, comically, they end up grabbing a management consultant, Frank, who turns out to have originated from Leven, also in Fife and is working for the new American owners of the factory. Turns out the Japanese sold out a few years back but word never reached this far flung corner of the empire.
Far-fetched? Maybe it was in 2001 but zoom on to 2009 and companies are changing hands without many really knowing what’s going on and, moreover, we have seen two recent examples of “bossnapping”, as it has been coined. Step forward Luc Rousselet, the French director of 3M, a US multi-national and Francois-Henri Pinault, the billionaire behind the French PPR retail group, both bossnapped by workers protesting at job cuts. No-one managed to snag Fred Goodwin before he scuttled off with his exalted, taxpayer funded pension to his villa in France, but who knows what employees at RBS were thinking about as their formerly secure world crashed around them.
Thankfully, Rousselet and Pinault escaped unharmed. But then they didn’t have to deal with the intellectualizing yet psychotic Eddie, who just enjoys mindless violence. His side-kick, Gary, is just after answers that will help him understand the system that is forcing him to work 7 days a week yet still be incapable of making ends meet. Frank, to his obvious chagrin, can’t provide them, but at least he realizes that he is just a cog in a wheel too big for any individual to slow or stop. He is as used and abused by the system as Gary and Eddie, but unlike them, is content with his lot, the last person who’d poke his head above the parapet. And then there’s young Tom, the politics graduate just doing a stint as a security guard to pay off some debts and who finds himself in this mess by accident, not because of some raging desire to change the world. His outlook on life is engagingly simple, why can’t everyone just like each other and get on with things.
This is a powerful piece of theatre, all the more so for being played in the round, drawing the audience in as the plot unfolds. The script is tight, the wonderful prose interspersed with gallows humour to break the tension. The acting holds together well with Jim Muir (Gary) and Bruce Morton (Frank) providing strong support to Paul Nichols as Eddie. Whilst the latter would be a more convincing hard man if he were more in control of his words, the real star of the piece is Will Andrews who plays the callow, naïve and desperately nervous security guard Tom with real poignancy. All Tom wants is to be liked and for everyone to like each other, not a bad philosophy for a world as badly scarred as this one has been in the last decade. Sadly, Tom’s dream turns out to be just a fantasy. Just like endogenous growth theory.