Monday 25 September 2023

THEATRE REVIEW: The Cost Of Everything - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.


It is something to satirise events or types of people and make people laugh. There is added gravitas if the events in question are topical and affecting everyone to varying degrees. However, it quite rare to actually offer the audience, constructive and original ideas for solving a crisis. ‘The Cost Of Everything’ managed to do all these things in an amusing and extremely interactive way.

The rising cost of living has been a constant feature in the news seemingly forever, with key aspects taking turns to be the main focus of attention from fuel and energy costs to food prices and to the shortage of affordable housing coupled with expensive rents. There are different ideas as we now have reached the present situation but Hidden Track Theatre honed in on aggressive capitalism and self-interest, showing how we now worship in the church of the free market. The concept was brought over in a very funny way, complete with a liturgy conducted by a priest wearing the holy pound sign on a neck-chain backed with church singers whilst at the same time, convincingly getting the message over.

The main thrust of the show was akin to a cross between the board game ‘Monopoly’ and a TV game show involving the whole audience, with everyone given a small number of symbolic tokens, described as ‘things’ which varied from a concept such as energy to a specific luxury item. Audience members competed in various games using playschool-style props that were funny whilst focussing on different key issues. Flash messages on the video screen would frequently interrupt events such as a sudden increase in energy costs meaning everyone had to choose a ‘thing’ to give up. Added to this were frequent fun-facts that were not funny at all (such as the relative cost of a house now compared with fifty years ago).

The cast of three remained fully in character throughout all the fun and mayhem, for the most part representing members of the church of the free market but with the very distinct addition of Jen from Preston, an ordinary, everyday-sort of woman, who represented the heart of what the play was about. To his tremendous credit, Elliot Hughes in writing ‘The Cost Of Everything’ did not pick on easy scapegoats such as trying to blame everything on the Tories or the bankers because apart from anything else, that would not help to resolve the actual problems. Jen from Preston represented a real event that took place in Preston around 2015 where the council worked with various groups of the public in a constructive way to try to address various issues facing the city; something that has become known as The Preston Model. It was very refreshing to encounter a funny, satirical play that actually gave you something positive and credible to take away!

Elliot Hughes, Janelle Thompson and Steph Reynolds all gave spirited performances, both interacting amongst themselves and interacting directly with audience members. The cast were certainly well-rewarded for their efforts with an enthusiastic audience keen to get involved in all the hi-jinks. This was a fun night that offered more than just entertainment. Another interesting added element were the ‘homeworkers’ who were a group of some 15-20 people watching the show on-line and they participated in being able to vote on direction at certain points during the performances. A couple of cameo characters also appeared on the video screen for good measure.

All in all this was a sophisticated show that was funny and relevant, focusing on how to resolve issues rather than just moaning and wagging the finger. Very well worth seeing!

Reviewer - John Waterhouse
on - 21.9.23

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