By Marti Ibrahim
‘The Market Is A Wind-Up Toy’ is a political work; a piece of ‘protest theatre’ from The Bloomshed, presented at Theatre Works as part of the 2019 Melbourne Fringe Festival.
This show is difficult to categorise in terms of genre, and that is (I think) the point. Essentially, the premise of this play is that the free market has collapsed, leading economists are jumping out of skyscraper windows, and the golden cash cow – which provides divine guidance to the global economy – has been put down. Arvid Flatpack has to fix it, and we watch him journey down to the darkest recesses of hell to resurrect the only system that works – capitalism. He fails on several occasions, and each time he is then resurrected as the new hero of capitalism, who seeks by various methods to save the world. He tells us in one of his earliest incarnations, “I want to be a really great entrepreneur, but all I have is this stupid lute.” The ‘lute’ he speaks of is really more of a ukulele, and the system of ‘capitalism’ that Arvid Flatpack is trying to save is represented in the form of Swedish retail institution, IKEA.
We are first given a taste of this as we enter the theatre. We see a vacant stage lit only with blue light – and instead of pre-show music, we hear the sound of a woman’s voice reciting items from the IKEA catalogue in Swedish, followed by descriptions of those items in English.
The actors, too, are dressed in Swedish IKEA colours, blue and yellow, and they greet us with highly entertaining cheesy grins and rapid, stylised movements, as they seek to inspire us to join the great team at IKEA on their journey. Each actor in the ensemble takes turns to play Arvid Flatpack. Generally the connection between the actors is strong and they all work very hard – both physically and vocally – to take us on Arvid’s journey into the deep recesses of hell to rescue the free market. That being said, there are some actors in this ensemble who are more vocally strong than others, and this was particularly evident when two actors would speak alternating lines in quick succession out to the audience (curiously, without the assistance of the sometimes-used microphones on stage).
Especially strong in her performance was Elizabeth Brennan. She showed great range in her physical characterisations of various characters, as well as in her vocal ability to switch between light and shade throughout her performance. One of her monologues in particular is beautiful and fresh, a good contrast to the rehearsed and stylised feel of the rest of the play. But all six actors are clearly skilled practitioners who give the audience a highly entertaining, often humourous perspective of the world in which we live. It seems that no topic is off-limits here, and nothing is sacred, not even the cigarette-smoking golden cow, the unlikely deity overseeing and guiding an imperfect world under the rule of Maggie Thatcher; a world where refugee policy is sorely lacking, and where the “traditional owners of the land” are Coles and Woolworths, and where we must “pay our respects to plastic bags, past, present and future.” There are some who may rightly be offended by the latter reference, but there is enough variety in this play for it appeal to most people, with its irreverent take on our capitalist existence.
It was a bit of shame, then, that these strengths in the writing and performance of this piece were unfortunately not properly supported on opening night because of significant technical problems. On several occasions, the audience could not see the actors properly as they moved into unlit areas of the stage to deliver speeches. Similarly, the sound coming from the microphones was patchy, often becoming clear a couple of seconds after an actor had already started speaking into the microphone. It is clear that this show has the makings of great theatre, and it is my sincere hope that these technical issues are ironed out soon.
There is one last point which must be made. People’s time is valuable. It was somewhat disappointing that the scheduled show time of 9:00pm was pushed out significantly, and that the audience was not invited to take their seats on opening night until about 9:40pm. The late start meant that the show finished just before 11:00pm. Several different reasons were given for the delay, including the late finishing time of the previous show’s performance, and then we were told that there were technical problems with the lighting. This would have been more forgivable if the show’s producers had been more active in their communication with the waiting audience members prior to the show.
Nevertheless, this show is still worth seeing, for its strong ensemble of actors, its politically daring subject matter, and its pure humour and entertainment value.
Image Credit: Aleks Corke
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.