The Win Bin, Old Red Lion

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I have several friends who’ve recently graduated and are currently in the soul-destroying process of trying to get into the arts. We have a lot of conversations that go a bit like this:

“How’s it all going?”
“Oh it’s OK, I’ve just been doing this internship with [insert arts organisation].”
“That sounds like a great opportunity. Is it paid?”
“No, it’s not. Well, they pay travel, but …”
“That’s a bit shit. But it could open some doors I guess.”
“Yeah. I’m also doing this show at [insert theatre]. It’s only profit-share, and it’s costing me a fortune to get there and back – plus I’m knackered from the day job – but maybe it will lead to something else …”

You get the idea.

This is the culture that The Win Bin skewers. Set in a future dystopia, but taking aim at present day problems, Kate Kennedy and Sara Joyce’s show imagines a Britain in which there is just one remaining arts job. Competition, as you’d expect, is fierce. In a cross between The X Factor and The Apprentice, six shortlisted candidates fight it out for the prize: not a recording contract or six-figure salary, but a toe in the fast-closing door of the arts sector. Oh, and it’s not even paid.

Switching rapidly between roles as the six desperate would-be artists, Kennedy and fellow performer Wilf Scolding (both real comic talents) stand in for a whole army of desperate job-hunters, willing to do anything for a break. They sing. They dance. They screw each other over. Because in this constantly surveilled nightmare of ruthless individualism, there can only be one winner. And if you can manufacture a sob story along the way, then all the better.

It sounds brutal, but there’s a surreal, comic edge to these frantically competing characters, most of whom are as dotty as Bethany Wells’ spare but striking set design. Two of the candidates are exes, torn between revenge and lingering affection, and each with a dizzying range of foibles. One hopeful specialises in live taxidermy; another claims that his calves are his secret weapon. In a series of short, sometimes skit-like scenes, they make increasingly ridiculous attempts to outdo one another, responding to the cryptic, impossible demands of an unseen judging panel. It’s occasionally clunky, but mostly hilarious.

As entertaining as all the wackiness is, though, it’s the more subdued opening and closing moments of the show that really stick in the memory. Bash (played by Kennedy), the awkward and anxious protagonist of the piece, is in interview mode, blinking nervously into the single bright shaft of light that falls across the stage as she clumsily reaches for the elusive “right” answers. The desperation is tangible. And it’s in this situation, so depressingly recognisable to a generation of young people, that the laughter begins to die away.

Photo: Alex D Fine.

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