fanSHEN's allegorical take on the credit crunch, staged in a disused office on Oxford Street, is intelligent, funny and absorbing, says Alison Goldie
Aptly staged in a recently defunct office in the centre of consumerism that is Oxford Street, Cheese is an intelligent, funny and absorbing analysis of the free market and some of its disastrous consequences.
On arrival at the venue, we are welcomed by three members of staff having a ‘Final Days' party for the departing firm, the London Mortgage Company. There is a festive air, notwithstanding the boxy, bland space, as our hosts, with the embarrassing gawkiness reminiscent of David Brent, prepare to give us an entertainment. A series of linked scenes (narrative is too strong a term) follow with cheese as a commodity as the central issue – it was once in abundant supply but no longer. Rube (a smooth Jamie Zubairi) is the rich boss mimicking the western world's view that ‘we just have to get back to normal' as the cheese-fuelled world crumbles.
Joe (Jon Foster) plays the Everyman role with a deft touch: gullible and apathetic at first, after a scene in a laboratory modelled on the Milgram Experiment, he begins to see his complicity in the cheese-fiasco. Freya (an effervescent Rachel Donovan) is Joe's over-affectionate lover and colleague who adopts several shape-shifting roles including a marvellous Nigella Lawson: like Joe she moves from goofiness to wised-up seriousness as the economic Armageddon looms.
There is enormous fun in the design by Chris Gylee which utilises office furniture and stationery for set and props in witty, transformative ways. The unwrapping of layers of depth in the play is mirrored in scene changes that are both shocking and pleasing. An added delight is that fanSHEN are using customized exercise bikes in gyms to charge giant batteries which are then used to power the show!
The message of sustainability that ultimately emerges is thus reinforced, though Cheese shows that we have barely started to implement alternatives to our economic systems. That said, thoughtful plays like Cheese have a part to play in making us all stay alert to our own responsibility for a better future.
- Alison Goldie