Review: WINNERS @ The Theatre on the Downs ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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By Jasper Price, Third Year, Theatre and Performance Studies.

Bristol old Vic presents WINNERS, a razzmatazz look into the world of corporation, capitalism and clowning by the Wardrobe Theatre company at the brand new pop-up venue the Theatre in the Downs.

It’s 7:30pm in the restaurant franchise Winners, on the night of the opening of its ten millionth establishment. We are introduced to Mr Winner, the larger-than-life owner and his ragtag team of employees. He greets us with open arms and invites us to join him as he explores the history of his business. What follows is an hour and a half of explosive choreography, absurd characters and hilarious moral commentary.

From the very first winner, a hunter/gatherer 13000 years ago, we are taken on a meandering journey through the history of capitalism. Along the way we meet various characters including Elizabeth 1st, Karl Marx and Henry Ford, all of whom are played to the utmost level of zany. Elizabeth for example, is portrayed as a hypersexual manipulator, who prances around the stage like a table dancer, seducing Mr Winner into doing her every will. Winner, who starts the show as a clean, neat entrepreneur, slowly becomes more intoxicated in the story he’s telling and shifts from his calm and collected demeanour to something more grotesque by the end.

Some of the show's many famous faces The Wardrobe Ensemble / Chelsey Cliff

The play flows without a fault; the dance routines are precise and entertaining, and the laughs come thick and fast through a variety of means. There are moments when the characters in Mr Winner’s show break, and the real personas of the ensemble come through, away from the gaiety. The technical aspects of the piece similarly go off without a hitch: fast, snappy lighting which helps create this feeling of motion, ensuring the performance is fluid. The bright bold décor in the restaurant, garish and showy, perfectly symbolises the characters within.

The star is of course Mr Winner himself, a caricature of the rich white male. Of course, there are allusions to Donald Trump, but Winner seems to give us a fresh take on the stereotype. From his fake cheesy smiles to his cold, cutthroat attitude to business, the character presented is the very figure of capitalism. You can see the inspirations that have brought the play here, The Wolf of Wallstreet for example or Lucy Prebble’s Enron. Winner even throws in the odd misogynist comment or allusion to racist thinking to ensure his unlikability.

As the play progresses, this frivolity becomes an altogether different show. There is something monstrous behind the cool exterior of Winner, and the bright lights and music become a ghastly subversion to the not so happy action on the stage. Finally, we are left with a moral message through the use of text on screens at the back of the stage. Images of global disasters, climate change and billionaires all interspersed with messages of hope fill the last few minutes of the show. Although I found this to be slightly preachy, the message is clear- the Mr Winners of the world are destroying the world, but there’s still time to save it.

The Wardrobe Ensemble / Chelsey Cliff
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Overall though the play presents a very fresh take on capitalist issues, the American dream and ambition. The positive, upbeat way in which the story is described does well to subvert expectations and the performance of the cast is exceptional. A fun and adventure filled ride into the world of corporation, the wardrobe company are clearly onto a winner with this one.

Featured image: Chelsey Cliff


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