Does a McDonald’s uniform cap go with a bright red ballgown? Elina Arminas certainly makes it work, in just one of many costume changes during her one-woman play about growing up in the early 1990s in a newly independent Estonia. After decades under the Iron Curtain, where she explains many things were illegal (even being gay) or scarce, the liberated country found itself embracing the West, including its nightlife.
Arminas’ autobiographical tale focuses on her childhood in a strip club, The White Lion, which her grandma established in the mid-90s. Surrounded by strong women (including her mum and grandma) and sleazy men, from everyday husbands to gangsters and dodgy politicians, she grew up soaking in the atmosphere, though her mother covered her eyes as they walked through the club after school pick-up.
With an old TV in the corner, a USSR flag on top jostling for position with a McDonald’s Happy Meal box, an intricate rug on the floor and a neon sign glowing in the background announcing the ‘Pleasure Palace’, scene setting for Pleasure Little Treasure is quickly established. The TV is a powerful tool, showing clips of archive news footage (the opening of a Moscow branch of McDonald’s is unforgettable) as well as home videos of baby Elina taken by her father in 1990; his legacy is mainly this footage and Depeche Mode’s back catalogue – one of their songs has even been used as the show title.
A distorted male voice interrupts the show at various points, like an all-seeing overlord, trying to intimidate and control Elina and her narrative. This voiceover initially works, but the more the voice is used, the less effective it becomes.
She draws parallels between the ‘never-ceasing appetites’ for junk food, sex and power, and she’s never short of an appropriate prop, from a McDonald’s toy to a paper money gun. To illustrate this further, she morphs into Elon Must, an archetypal male customer clad in an Adidas tracksuit, who has a seemingly endless supply of sex jokes and pick-up lines, including the zinger: ‘I’ve got so much to give, I’m a feminist’. Again, this works in small doses, but it’s overused; I would have preferred to hear more from Elina and less from Elon.
At the time of her Fringe show, Arminas is about to give birth (she’s the queen of multi-tasking, as the baby is due next month); she’ll go on to raise the next generation of her family in a more democratic world, but one that still faces power imbalances, toxic masculinity, political corruption and greed. It seems our insatiable appetites haven’t been curbed much at all.
Written and directed by: Elina Arminas
Produced in association with Soho Theatre Labs
Pleasure Little Treasure plays at Underbelly Cowgate (Delhi Belly) until 13 August. Further information and bookings here.