Green issues are a hot topic these days, affecting every level of governmental policy from transit to trash pick up. The corporate world is equally affected, with the growing fairtrade movement and an increased awareness of where and how the things we take for granted are being produced.
Unfortunately, such themes rarely translate into good theatre. Last fall’s Water at the Lyric Hammersmith was a creative attempt, but weighed down under a overly-complicated story and falling victim to its engaging but distracting design. Branded, penned by Simon Bent (Elling) for the Old Vic’s New Voices programme, suffers in a similar way, except it’s far worse.
Played out by a cast of 50 enthusiastic amateurs (easily the best part of the show - no joking), Branded takes us through the issues surrounding a pair of shoes. Hippie company owner Benjamin doesn’t wear shoes (they’re thought-constricting), but he does like the idea of selling out to an evil American tycoon who uses Chinese sweatshop labour that hires consultants to get them through not-so-surprise inspections. A group of youths who ditch school and live off of KFC kill another over his shoes and run into Heathrow expansion protesters while on the run. And OMG these shoes are entirely constructed of recycled materials in the EU with no carbon footprint. The plot is the issues, leading to a preachy performance that feels all of its 90 minutes.
At least the hip-hop interludes which provide some nice dancing and no dialogue are enjoyable - everything else is preachy and surrounded by Lorna Heavey’s overkill quantity of projections and video monitors (as with Water - why do “green” themed shows use so much electronic kit?) and the opening features some of the shakiest video ever shot, projected on the show curtain. If Blair Witch made your nauseous, the sequence here will as well. Of course, as a mention to identity and understanding that we, the audience, are part of the cog, everybody is filmed coming into the auditorium as well.
There is one final upside to Branded: all the tickets were free, so the only thing lost was an evening. And, in all fairness, it was nowhere near as bad as Gone With The Wind. However, until the environmentalists learn from political theatre’s past and create engaging works that inform without bludgeoning the audience over the head with the conceptual cricket bat, the genre will remain consistently weak.
Where: Old Vic
How Much: Free
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: N/A. He’d have been upset if tickets were over a tenner, though.
RZ Other Notes: The RZ’s green-friendly housemate had an excellent suggestion for fixing the issues with Heathrow expansion: raze Luton to the ground and shift London’s primary airport functions there.