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Review: The Market is a Wind-Up Toy

Photo Credit: Aleks Corke | Pictured: Elizabeth Brennan and Olivia Bishop

By Sophia Zikic

In her brilliant article in the business section of The Atlantic, writer Anne Lowrey manages to capture the essence of late-stage Capitalism. It is, she says, “a catchall phrase for the indignities and absurdities of our contemporary economy, with its yawning inequality and super-powered corporations and shrinking middle class”. Think of “period poverty”, the $11 billion blood-plasma industry powered by poor Americans, the black mirror that is corporate Twitter, and Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad (which – thankfully – has since been revoked). Late-stage capitalism is the cult of work, the invasion of the home, and also the can of worms that creators James Jackson and Lindsay Templeton crack open with their inspired theatre production The Market is a Wind-Up Toy, playing at Melbourne Fringe this year.

The Market is the play of choice for anyone who has ever spent hours on Seek claiming to be “passionate about customer service”. I had the feeling while watching the play that half of the script came from my answers to employer’s questions about “why you’d be the perfect fit for this company”.

Photo Credit: Aleks Corke | Pictured (L-R): James Jackson, James Malcher, Olivia Bishop and Elizabeth Brennan

The cast is full of manic energy, particularly James Malcher (seen on the promotional material, with the yellow suit and wild smile), and throw themselves with abandon into the riot of the plot. As the play progresses, and protagonist Arvid Flatpack descends into the Underworld to retrieve the Golden Cow, the surrealist undercurrent of late-stage Capitalism comes to the forefront of the show in a bizarre spectacle of light and smoke, myth and bureaucracy.

When compared to the other amateur theatre I’ve seen, The Market is a refreshingly tight show. Even with limited lighting, audio and props, Jackson manages to push the envelope of his space and create a piece more than worth the ticket price. I hope to see more performances like The Market, in which every decision feels considered. The wild, bawdy dance numbers, set to bass-heavy techno tracks are well choreographed, and the comedy never falls flat. Occasionally, the subtext is somewhat heavy-handed, and the acting is often melodramatic when it’s meant to be serious, but presentation is nevertheless tight.

The Market is a Wind-Up Toy has been called “the perfect antidote to the anxiety of our times”. I disagree; however much the audience enjoys the perfectly-timed references to Marie Kondo and 9 News, the play shouldn’t give us catharsis. Even though I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of Ikea managers hunting their floor staff with handguns I left the theatre feeling hollow, which I think is exactly what should be felt after taking a long hard look at late-stage – that is, modern – Capitalism.

Photo Credit: Aleks Corke | Pictured: Elizabeth Brennan and Olivia Bishop
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