Edinburgh Fringe 2013
We enter the department store that makes Christmas look dull. It is a place where the performers are selling chic and selling it well – or at least two of them are. We then welcome the shoe maker who appears, accordion in hand, to narrate our intermingled plot line of how the Elves help him to keep the bling in our shop windows whilst exploiting the help who are made to make the shiny shoes. The ultimate demise of the infrastructure may be devoutly to be wished but is undercut by the realisation that once again those who are mostly innocent are left with nothing; then again isn’t that always the way?
We enter a store where the department store is pushing the store card through their front of house staff. Once we are seated we are accosted by sales staff to sign up before the store opens in earnest. Our two front of house greeters and sellers turn to the cruel camp of selling hopes and dreams. They are full of the bile and judgment that comes with having to meet targets. Once the shoemaker is introduced the story really unfolds and the target shifts to the people who employ children to make the cheap clothing we enjoy. The juxtaposition between the camp nature of the store and the sad and involved story of the shoemaker and the children is highly engaging and very effective. Using children’s tales – including the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe – may hardly be new but here it is rather effective.
This was conceived well and the process of devising is hardly noticeable. When the stories join together I really felt we were in an area of great theatre and drama. Once the actors became other characters in this secondary tale we can understand how the false nature of sales is sitting on sinking moral sand. By the end of the piece all four actors have delivered a highly engaging morality tale that sits uneasily within our frequent trips for cut price clothing.
This was very convincing theatre and all the performances were of a very high quality. The interaction between them with the two bullying sales assistants with the dowdy target of their techniques got the point over simply but devastatingly. The shoe maker and his story was developed and told with detail but never bogged down in the telling. This was great storytelling that took us along on a ride that was as uncomfortable as it was simply well told. It wasn’t faultless though and I did, at times think it became a little simplistic. I was hardly waiting for comparisons of GDP between the emerging and developing World v the West but felt there could have been more sophistication within the script.
Staging was basic in one sense but quite inspired in another. The moving desks worked a treat and the fact that the back house was exposed with cardboard boxes in trollies worked well. It reminded us we were facing a façade. The way in which they then became part of the set was inspired – in particular the cardboard houses. Where I was less than certain was the use of shadow and projection. It was simply not that well done and it left me wishing they hadn’t bothered; it felt gimmicky rather than integral.
The use of music was, however integral and the performers were able to use that musical backdrop to great effect. I am always impressed when someone plays live onstage so the accordion gave us that whimsical feel whilst being part of a very serious topic. The narration from the voice recorder was also disconcerting in that it underlined the idea that this was something being DONE to people rather than them having any great choices. I really liked that.
As a performance piece this was great fun to begin with but the turn of the moral screw gave you plenty to think about. Consumerism is such a gargantuan topic but here with such simplicity and style the pendulum swung back in favour of the little people.