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Cheese, Oxford Street – Review

Nikki Schreiber
Directed by Dan Barnard & Rachel Briscoe

Pros: A quirky play within a play that offers lots of laughs, gags and good humour, as well as a serious and meaningful contemplation of the causes and consequences of the economic collapse.

Cons: Despite being told in allegorical form and presenting several perspectives, the message and tone of the production did feel overtly didactic at times.

Verdict: Cheese offers a unique experience in more ways than one. A sharp dissection of the world’s current economic and financial condition, the recent harshness of the subject matter is cushioned well in allegory while making a strong and balanced point.

Courtesy of Conrad Blakemore and fanSHEN

You’re not necessarily too sure what you’re going to get with a title like Cheese. A full on explanation of the causes of the financial crisis, its micro and macroeconomic effects and a preventative prescription to protect ourselves from future damage were definitely not the first things that came to my mind. But then again, this show does seem to be full of the unexpected.

A site specific performance set in a disused Oxford Street Building, the premise is clear as soon as you set foot into the theatre space (former office). LMC Building Futures has gone bust, and the former employees (the audience) are gathering for one big send off where colleagues Joe (Jon Foster), Freya (Rachel Donovan) and Rube (Jamie Zubairi) present a ‘skit’ about the reason they don’t have their company any more (pretty deep compared to any office skit I’ve ever seen!). To soften the blow of their own reality, the whole mess is explained in an allegory where cheese is currency, pet swapping is the hot-to-trot investment scheme that gets everyone in trouble and co-operative farming is the initial safe-haven offering refuge.

The play within the play frame adds welcome silliness and humour to rather close to the bone content. The moment you know our main character, Joe is going to loose everything (not a spoiler considering the tale being told), this truth is beautifully diffused with reminders that these are just a bunch of work mates entertaining their friends. Alternatively, when the message gets important, the real world/dramatic world divide gets put aside to drive the point home and make us learn from a global mistake. What is refreshing about Nikki Schreiber’s take on the financial crisis is that, although perhaps tilting to the left, it does offers a balanced solution to economic fortuity (or at least comfortably scraping by).

In addition to the brilliant setting for the piece, against one of London’s most commercial districts, designer Chris Gylee has created an incredible ‘layered’ set out of a completely uninspiring office space. As the plot and characters, mainly Joe, gain dimension, so does the space being used, as the bland little room gains more and more depth in terms of dressing, lightening and meaning.

The lighting is particularly special for this production as all electricity for the show was completely powered by enormous batteries. These were charged entirely by customized exercise machines. This did cause some excitement in the beginning due to a couple of mild power outages but it certainly added to the scope of the play – an ever present reminder of the need to be savvy in times of hardship and a reminder of the wasteful mentality that plummeted the world into distress in the first place.

So I got a lot more than I bargained for from a play entitled Cheese: food for thought indeed. 

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Cheese runs at 29-31 Oxford Street until 28 September 2013.
Box Office: 020 7638 8891 or https://www.barbican.org.uk/eticketing/event-detail.asp?ID=15245

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