Pathos, Wholesale

Sat 6th – Sat 20th August 2011


Kate Abnett

at 11:36 on 18th Aug 2011



Set in a dystopian world where emotions are commodities, David P Griffiths’ new work succeeds in asking some probing questions about the nature of feeling, its causes and freedom of emotional expression. The script was laced with wit throughout, and in its finer moments the play successfully meshed wry humour with political and social comment – in a world where emotions can be bought, ‘only the government can afford pretension’. Perhaps due to the topical nature of the play’s themes (the work is set in an economic depression, with an ongoing threat of revolt) this was generally well received by the audience.

It is therefore a shame that the writing lacked subtlety – jokes were explained much too explicitly and monologues digressed into basically listing the different emotions for sale. By shoving its themes too readily down the audience’s throat, the play’s quick-witted moments and its genuinely interesting themes became overshadowed by a patronising tone. This, as well as a few too many clunky dystopian clichés (“The unfreedom of speech act” was a repeat offender) prevented the performance from becoming as slick throughout as its flashes of potential suggested it could be.

The same problems struck in the acting as in the writing. The play dealt with different emotions very specifically, and the small cast of two actresses tended to overact to convey this. For example, after taking a ‘dose of amusement’, the shrieking and howling that ensued became extremely uncomfortable to watch, and the actress (admirably!) kept these hysterics up throughout the whole of her next monologue, rendering it completely incomprehensible.

The venue, a shopping mall, meant a very low level of background noise throughout the performance. Although this wouldn’t be enough to distract the average fringe festival-goer, the cast seemed to regard it as real competition for their audience’s attention, shouting throughout as if desperate to be heard. The small set conveyed the setting of a shop effectively through quirky props (glass vials and test tubes containing the ‘emotions’ for sale were a nice touch) and the performance seemed well directed, with the cast falling to their knees, crouching down and pacing, filling the small performance space effectively. However, melodrama again crept in to render whole sections of the performance silly, through panto-esque eye-rolling and laughably flamboyant gesticulations.

The play reflects on social and political issues (the government is “addicted” to the “overconfidence” emotion) and dips its toe in the waters of psychology with successful wry humour. If both the writer and cast had dared to leave the audience guessing a bit more, instead of literally shouting its message at them, then something more subtly clever, and less uncomfortable to watch could have emerged. Instead, it seems that Rebel Base productions placed a wholesale order of melodrama.


Annabel James

at 12:05 on 18th Aug 2011



The premise behind Rebel Base Productions’ one-scene performance is that the British government, at an unspecified point in the future, has licensed the possession of human emotions. To prevent public unrest and ensure that everyone receives a fair share, emotions and thoughts have been transformed into colourful potions on display in a chemist-like ‘Emotion Shop’, managed by the character played by Victoria Pinder.

The choice of a disused retail space in the basement of Princes Mall provided an appropriately bleak backdrop to the actions of the civil servant, played by Hayley Jeffrey, who enters the shop attempting to break out of her emotional stability. The costumes and set were all shades of black, white and grey, so that the only vibrancy came from the lurid yellows and pinks of the liquid emotions on display. The shopping space was stripped down to minimal furnishings – a desk, a couple of mirrors, some vertical lines along a wall – in the same way the play’s characters have been stripped of their emotional identities.

The dystopian central conceit does not always make for gloomy viewing, however. The audience were laughing away at Jeffrey’s character’s insistent demands for despair: she wants ‘something a tad... suicidal’. Such moments of black humour worked well to relieve the tension of this claustrophobic interaction between the two characters, locked in their prescribed emotional states.

Although the main idea behind ‘Pathos, Wholesale’ is a novel take on an Orwellian portrayal of the future, I left the play thinking its potential had not been fully explored. Jeffrey’s and Pinder’s characters sampled one emotion after another, producing alternately comic and troubling results, but there was little sense of a development between these experiments with mind-altering drugs. I also wanted to know more about the societal framework behind this constructed scenario: brief allusions were made to the government’s motivations for licensing emotion, but the wider implications of this remained slightly confused. The characters often used the phrase ‘I would feel –‘, implying that it was dangerous to admit to feeling emotion, and yet Jeffrey’s impassioned demands seemed to demonstrate that her character had plenty of it already.

Nonetheless, this is a well-crafted piece of dystopian satire in which customer and salesperson are equally enslaved by the emotional products on offer. The final moments contain a thrillingly unexpected twist which forces you to consider the rest of the play in a new light. It is not always the subtlest of political satires, but ‘Pathos, Wholesale’ remains worth seeing.


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