Performed in Bristol’s new pop-up venue, the Wardrobe Ensemble’s Winners invites us to celebrate the grand opening of Mr Winner’s 10th million branch of Winners restaurants. So much winning. Losers are sidelined and silenced as this is a celebration of history’s victors, the peddlers and consumers of burgers, nuggets and milkshakes.
Galloping through 15,000 years of food production and capitalism, from hunting on Mesopotamian plains to the financial crash of 2008 and beyond, it is gamely performed by an ensemble of seven, led by Tom England as Mr Winner. As with the economic system it satirises, the show possesses a frenzied propulsion, leaving little room to pause in its 90-minute duration.
Co-directed by Jesse Jones and Helena Middleton, Winners handsomely fills its temporary venue. A glitzy Americana-circus-diner set by Ruby Spencer Pugh of yellows, reds and blues is lit by Rajiv Pattani and has an appropriately deluxe plastic sheen. Jack Drewry’s sound design and Mwen’s music are also excellent, sustaining the staging’s swift pace as it pops with the kinetic energy of a cartoon.
This is a smart and expansive parody of rapacious capitalism and suborbital billionaires, neatly drawing a line from the Fertile Crescent to the miracle of the drive-thru. Clear in its message and the targets of its take-downs, its playful rhetoric is persuasive.
The parody is fun, even if what is being satirised is a little on the (rooi) nose. What is one to do with a reminder that neoliberalism is a destructive force? I wanted a more pointed resolution, to be told how we might put the clown car in reverse, beyond the cautious optimism of a collective potential to change things.
Despite its winning qualities, Winners also perhaps echoes capitalism’s greatest trick. That quick calibrated hit of salt, sugar and fat might be delicious, but one is left feeling not wholly satisfied, yearning for more.