Edinburgh Festival: Pendulums Bargain Emporium (4 stars)

What are you wearing? Whatever it is, after you’ve seen this show you’ll be thinking about it differently.
Maison Foo, the creators of the heartbreaking Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin, have once again used their potent combination of imaginative, visual storytelling and a socially conscious slant to surprise, entertain and challenge – and this time they’re talking about shopping. In particular, clothes shopping and the decline of independent retailers as faceless chain stores take over the high street.

One of these monster stores, Pendulums Bargain Emporium, is where we initially find ourselves, its pristine white walls, drippy music and sickly sweet staff inviting us to “buy now, pay later.”

Meanwhile, in a story inspired by the children’s tale The Elves and the Shoemaker, a man who makes leather footwear is struggling to make ends meet, much to the dissatisfaction of his wife. Cheap plastic sandals become their ticket to riches, but in gaining wealth they end up sacrificing something far more important.

Musical numbers and vignettes that contrast the everyday with the surreal create the feeling of being inside a dystopian fun house. The wife (predominantly played by a plastic head) must decide her future by picking items from a game show conveyor belt. Multiple versions of her face later sing to us, boxed and ready to be sold.

We also meet the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe. She gives birth to babies who sit on production lines making men’s ties. Rarely has a piece that tackles issues of child labour, consumerism and corporate greed been done with such humour, originality and lightness of touch. It’s as much a piece of satire as it is theatre, but it’s one that never loses track of being entertaining.

In the age Pendulums represents, everything can be marketed and turned into a profit, even a corporate backlash. The funniest moments are the most astute: the “ethical” tie introduced to suit the customer who cares, the Women in Business award given to the shoemaker’s wife for selling out.
For a play filled with magical realism, it’s very true to life.

Written for The Scotsman

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