‘Everything about The Bloomshed reminds me of the “good” old days of the Indy Theatre Boom of the 2000s’: Robert Reid on The Market is a Wind-up Toy
The adventures of Arvid Flatpack, a guileless naïf who descends into a hell of corporate rhetoric and motivational rituals, The Market is a Wind-Up Toy blends business chic and an economic pop theory aesthetic with dramaturgical structures inherited from Orpheus in the Underworld and the Old Testament.
A new work created by The Bloomshed and presented at Theatre Works, we follow Arvid, armed only with his lute – or ukulele – as he sets out to return the lost Golden Calf to the world for the good of his company and his own personal prosperity.
The stage is largely bare, a scattering of microphones on stands and a raised platform at the back. Props and set pieces (an exercise bike for instance) are brought on and off by the cast at speed in the changes between scenes. These are beginning to look like an ongoing aesthetic signature for The Bloomshed, along with running in place at the microphone, entering and exiting the stage at a full run and choreography that looks like calisthenics. It reminds me of Not Yet It’s Difficult’s work Training Squad from 1996. The thrashing, high energy dance sections come between text based scenes with a sense of post dramatic chaos also remind me of Forced Entertainment’s Bloody Mess.
The role of Arvid is shared around between the cast, often with Arvid being shot at the end of the scene and replaced by the other actors with a callous, “Who wants a job?” The costumes are suits of bright yellow or blue, as is the monopoly money they use. Swedish flags are drawn across the stage at the end, and the only actual business I remember them mentioning is Ikea. Of course the Arvids themselves are named for the iconic storage and transport solution that made the company famous in the first place, the flat pack. Does this equate all corporations with the giant of affordable home furniture? I wonder if Ikea is the best metonym for scary big business
Director James Jackson also plays the Golden Calf, hilariously smoking and mooing into the mic, or tempting Arvid with implausible futures of success. James Malcher, as the devil with the light-up horns, is enjoyably blokey and broadly ocker and Elizabeth Brennan, always a terrific character actor, is particularly enjoyable as a grizzled and crotchety Charon.
The Flatpacks descend into this hell, following in the footsteps of Dante but with no Virgil to lead them. They cross the Styx, encounter Cerberus and confront Hell’s lord and ruler, Miss Maggie T. With a 51 percent controlling interest in the underworld, Miss T is an infernal slave driver with an oversized papier mache head that resembles a Rubbery Figures Princess Di.
Beside the performances, which are fast and funny and never let the audience’s attention wander, the pairing of corporate argot and philosophy with the Journey into the Underworld is clever. The thought behind the text, the replacements and substitutions of faux financial talk for the myths and cosmologies of the ancients, makes for a furious hour of entertainment. The story rambles a bit, but it finds focus once it settles into the journey into hell, and ends rapidly.
There are real depths to be plumbed here, depths that The Bloomshed (The Sheds? The Bloomers?) only dip their toe into. The aesthetic is strong and the ideas are broad, but the focus is a diffused by all the energy. The urgency demanded by the company’s aesthetic can also at times get a bit shouty and garbled. Under-resourced, making do with good ideas, cheap design and enthusiasm, everything about The Bloomshed reminds me of the “good” old days of the Indy Theatre Boom of the 2000s.
Times being what they are, that’s probably not surprising.
The Market is a Wind-Up Toy, created by The Bloomshed. Directed by James Jackson, lighting design by John Collopy, sound design by Justin Gardam. Performed by Edan Goodall, James Malcher, Olivia Bishop, Emily O’Connor, James Jackson and Elizabeth Brennan. Theatre Works. Closed.