Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Behind the doors of a crumbling civilisation in the last outpost of Convenience Foods, two co-workers rattle each other’s cages, rearrange the food chain and exhibit an impressive range of taxidermy in a darkly absurd frolic.
Just another day at the office. A huge barn of an office that is falling apart: endless paper on every surface, wilted plant pots and buzzing flies that refuse to die This is a mega Convenience Foods where the two hapless characters who inhabit the office stalk and avoid each other relentlessly like hunter and hunted.
Jerry, a neurotic office worker, idles away his time finding innovative and diverting ways with post-its, devising intricate watering devices for his brown leaved spider plant and endlessly pushing meaningless bits of paper. Enter Rhoda, administrative assistant not secretary, she is at pains to insist, a woman who has her eye on Jerry and won’t take no for an answer. The two hover uneasily around each other: Rhoda circling ravenously around her prey as Jerry slides further and further under his desk in his attempts to become invisible.
Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Ford brilliantly create an absurd, surreal world where the displacement activities of the office supersede any meaningful work. Their clowning is sublime. Jerry’s pursuit of the fly who refuses to die is priceless; Rhoda’s unhinged and relentless wooing is painful to watch. Together, they create a world teetering on the brink of extinction, somehow believable despite its weirdness.
This is the end of the world as we know it: the facades we have erected, the pantomime of manners that we use to distance ourselves from one are all beginning to crack under the strain. Grass springs up from the water fountain; bushes grow from behind the filing cabinets. . And into this dystopic, post Eden, a stoat rushes across the stage, a rabbit emerges from the filing cabinet, a veritable zoo of taxidermic creatures gradually erodes the human space.
The natural world that humanity has built so many barriers to protect itself from is reasserting its presence. 21st century civilisation and its fraught relationship with the earth is laid bare. Weeds start to appear through the cracks; the natural kingdom starts to reclaim its habitat. The world of Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl becomes increasingly bizarre, with comic dividends and dramatic payback.
And yet, this production fails to add up to more than the sum of its parts. The performances are immaculate and the writing solid, but the end doesn’t justify the scenes. The end is certainly a jaw-dropper and worth the journey, but it feels like the show rather than achieving a coherent whole becomes a series of sketches, backed up by an incredible set and collection of taxidermy, all set up to stage the end.
Nonetheless, it’s one well worth catching for its imaginative stretch, its wonderful performances, tear streaming moments – not to mention the best collection of stuffed animals you’re likely to see this festival.