Pros: An original concept – an adaption of a short story that is not so well known.
Cons: The quirky plot may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Adapted from a short story by George Saunders, Winky may be American in origin, but the tone and sensibility of this satire is very much British. The play revolves around Neil Yaniky (Joe Boylan), a man who, on first appearances, doesn’t have much going for him. He hasn’t made much progress in his career, looks prematurely old for a man and his love life is virtually non-existent.
To turn his life around, Neil goes to Tom Rodgers (Ed Davis), a self-help guru for insight. Rogers repeatedly compares those who we think block our path to happiness as ‘crapping on our oatmeal,’ an unforgettable metaphor if ever there was one, and asks Neil who is ‘doing’ this to him. After a series of questions, Rodgers narrows his solutions for Neil down to one: his life would be immeasurably better if his socially-awkward sister Winky moved out of his home into her own place.
Neil’s conundrum bears more than a passing similarity to the sitcom Steptoe And Son, where Harold Steptoe is stuck working with his uncouth father. However, while Albert Steptoe would often deliberately wind up Harold and scupper his little moments of happiness, Winky’s faux pas are completely benign in intent. Possessing enough self-awareness to know that her looks and life aren’t all they could be, Winky’s contentment is rooted in two things: her religious faith, and her brother, who in a moment of pity invited asked her to move in with him.
The decision to make the audience a part of the self-help seminar with Neil was a nice touch, as was Lauren Stone’s dour turn as Vicky, the monotone assistant to Tom Rodgers. Her lack of enthusiasm perfectly illustrated the hollowness of Rodgers’ philosophy and the ‘longevity’ of its effectiveness. While in some ways Winky is a stereotypical character, Amy Tobias imbues her cheerful absent-mindedness with warmth and charm.
Ed Davis’ turn as Rodgers was the right side of cocky – congenial but ultimately just spouting platitudes, like a talk-show host. By sharing with Neil about his life, Rodgers lets slip that the ‘impediment’ to his happiness was his wheelchair-bound brother, Gene, but things turned a corner once he put himself first. In contrast, Neil’s ‘failing’ is that he has empathy for others, and that well-meaning Winky is too scattered and wrapped in her own inner reality to cope without the support of her brother.
Winky as a satire rips apart the validity of selfish ambition, yet at the same time doesn’t offer any reassuring answers. What it does suggest is, gratify your yearnings at the detriment of others and you lose your soul, but stifle your own dreams and desires, and you will only be the shell of the person you could be. And there’s no self-help group that can help you with that.
Author: George Saunders
Director: Josh Roche
Producer: Josh Green/Fat Git Theatre
Designer: Kate Pearse
Booking until: Winky has completed its London run, but will appear at the Edinburgh Festival from 31 July – 24 August 2014