Edinburgh Fringe 2016
An amusing look at an issue we can all identify with and a reminder that revolutions often come from the most innocuous of beginnings.
“Unexpected item in bagging area” intoned the penetrating female voice. I was in an Edinburgh city branch of a well-known supermarket recently and thought that taking the self-scan route might save me a bit of time as I dashed to my next show. What a mistake that was. With a queue building rapidly behind me and this invisible voice intoning me ever more urgently to scan something or get the heck out of it, I resorted to dumping my few purchases with all the pique of a two year old in a tantrum and legged it out of the store.
So my sympathies lay totally with The Supermarket Six, and a sextet of supermarket workers driven to take rather drastic action as they are forced to consider a potentially bleak, jobless future by the introduction of this “shopper DIY” technology, allegedly designed to enhance the customer’s overall store experience.
A joint production between Seats Back Theatre Company and a sizeable all-female cast from Wimbledon High School, this nicely written and executed piece focused on an issue that many large corporates are finding hard to balance – the pursuit of profit at the expense of customer service and employee welfare, in this case the elimination of the interaction that takes place at the supermarket checkout.
The dialogue between the six is earthy and littered with very acerbic, funny one-liners that get the issue across and highlight that many jobs in supermarkets are not only low-paid and boring but the people doing them are often over-worked and under-appreciated. And, despite their obvious youth (and, presumably, limited experience of life in the workplace) this cast got the characterisation of the various roles just about spot-on.
Leader of the six, Mary (Caroline Bellingan), was particularly strident and had real stage presence. If Lady Stamper (the impressive Alice Fernyhough), head of the business and the power behind the introduction of the cost-saving technology, veered a little towards a caricature on occasions, it didn’t detract or distract. Other good character portrayals came from Katie Pitman as a posh lady who looked as though she should be shopping in Waitrose and not the run down dump portrayed here and Rosy Barber as an appropriately androgynous, geeky youth who befriended her. There were also excellent vignettes from a couple of gum-chewing shelf stackers with attitude, played by Lottie Curtis and Matilda McCarthy.
A little of the dialogue got lost due to lack of actor volume and slips in diction but the thirteen strong cast made excellent use of the Niddry Street stage throughout this fifty minute piece that never lost pace, even if it occasionally lost a bit of direction. It’s well worth a look and a good example of what the Fringe is all about – a good bit of new writing focused on an issue we can all easily identify with, giving a group of young actors the chance to find out what life in the theatre is all about.
And I’ll not get caught again either – it’s the manned check out for me from now on.