FringeReview UK 2016
From the factory floor to the catwalk, from Shanghai to London, World Factory weaves together stories of people connected by the global textile industry.
Riffing on our awareness of mass production and vulture capitalism, METIS invite you to play a provocative game. Which card will you draw? Will you be an ethical factory owner or will profits always come first? In the rag trade, can anyone ever really win?
Featuring stunning video and a powerful score, the show gives audiences a first-hand experience of the sharp end of fast fashion.
World Factory is an outstanding piece of performance/gaming. This means that whilst you very much feel that you have attended a theatre show, you have also played a sort of board game, where you are tasked with running a Chinese clothing factory for a year.
The piece starts with the performers introducing some of the principles that have guided the rapid expansion of the clothing market in China – Thatcher and Regan’s deregulation, China’s communist/capitalist policies. We also get some verbatim interviews with factory workers from Britain and China about how their industries have changed over the past 30 years.
All this sets the scene, and then we are told it is our turn. A red box is produced with our start up capital, a factory name to choose, and our first card is presented to us. On it is a business dilemma, with a choice to make that will impact on the future of our factory far into the future. Unsurprisingly we are immediately faced with an ethical dilemma – to pay our workers more or to fire half of them.
This very much sets the scene for many of the decisions we were asked to make throughout the game. Often there was no ethical course of action to choose, and we were certainly a very inconsistent team – sometimes acting purely to make more money, and sometimes trying to be fair to our workforce.
The game plays out for an hour, all the time with footage of a Chinese clothing factory playing on the enormous overhead screens. At the end, the cast, who have turned into dealers throughout the show, present to us the scores, which factory did best, who treated the workers most fairly, and also the environmental cost of the clothes that we made.
It was an extraordinary experience, the game itself was an incredible feat of technology, with barcode scanners for the cards that told the dealers which cards to present you with next, and 200 million possible routes to take through the show. I would have been fascinated to see it twice and play it from a different ethical perspective to see how that impacted upon my profits.
World Factory takes interactive theatre to a whole new level. I am sure that had I passively watched a show about Chinese clothing and the poor treatment of the workers, I would have felt affected, but it would have quickly faded. Conversely, here, my decisions have stayed with me; the ethical and business challenges faced by every person at every stage of the process were brought into stark relief.
What became clearest of all whilst taking part in the show, was that the key driving force behind this entire, horrendous industry (both on an environmental and human level) was us, the consumer. Our desire for a £3 shirt from Primark that we will wear once or twice causes the brand to demand more from the factory owners, who in turn pile those pressures onto their workers. World Factory made the human cost of that cheap shirt crystal clear, and there is no message more important for us to take home.