We're so chuffed that the multi-talented Theatre Maker, Henry Raby, came along to see our production of Retail Therapy. For more details about his work visit his website and make sure you see some of his work soon!
20.17 Blog #11: Retail Therapy by Out Of Character Theatre Company
Out Of Character’s Retail Therapy starts with a simple sketch. A casual conversation between two people discussing the failings of the NHS. It’s a nice gentle opener that settles into a realistic tone. That is, until the reveal these two characters, grumbling about the NHS, are actually Doctors on their break. This sets the tone for the rest of the show, taking the recognisable aspects of the world and giving it a clever, often surreal, spin.
The frantic rush that surrounds Black Friday is turned into a manic fist fight reminiscent of a Beano comic. The outcome is the birth of twins and the disastrous loss of a place in the queue. Other highlights are the ex-Investment Banker working at McDonalds whose desire to please results in an assassination. Similarly, two cleaners in dead-end jobs are revealed to secretly be mercenaries (when they can get time off work). An Argos catalogue bonking you on the head can result in the transformation into a fascist wannabe-despot.
This is a cartoon alternate reality, based loosely on our own consumer-heavy world of shops, shopping and business. But it is populated by people with strange glints in their eyes.
What makes the show really powerful, however, is when these strange people provide no help whatsoever to people who do need help. Instead of supporting a woman who is having anger issues, she is batted back-and-forth between Nurses and Doctors and Consultants who do more harm than good. The initial jollity of League Of Gentlemen-esque caricatures soon proves to be a disturbing Kafka-esque web of bureaucracy with no redemption. Each sketch as a satirical bite making the audience take a hard look at the consequences of a world so obsessed with shopping channels rather than real support and emotion.
Out Of Character charge into each role with a great sense of humour and play. The sketch-based format is made easier to digest over the hour by the curiosity of what characters will re-appear, what combination of actors will work with who, and their commitment to the recognisable-but-offbeat world of shopaholics.
The twisted humour has the audience laughing at each and every sketch, but the giggling soon fades for the final moment when Out of Character present heart-wrenching facts about cuts to mental health services. Out Of Character are capable of drawing out the absurd humour of a world fixated by shopping, and then hitting hard the point that this obsession with retail does more harm than good. For all its chaotic surreal nuts and bolts, Retail Therapy is cuttingly honest.