Short Changed – A review by Nigel Watson

 

 

Nigel Watson reviews ‘Short Changed’, a Theatre Royal Plymouth People’s Company Production performed at the Drum Theatre from 30 June – 2 July 2016.

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YOU the public decide the issues of the day on the prime-time TV show Short Changed (cue: audience applause). It’s 2036 and this Government sponsored programme offers a mixture of The Jeremy Kyle Show and Question Time.

As members of the audience to the latest episode, being ‘broadcast from Plymouth’, we get a triangular paddle with a blue and red side, which is used to make our votes. At the beginning, a member of the audience is randomly selected as the final decision maker in the event of a close audience vote. They are suitably robed and crowned to indicate the greater status of this role.

Trixie (Becky Hilton) warms up the audience, and Warren (Dan Pippen) acts as the floor manager who directs the audience’s responses. To the show itself, we have two female presenters, the older and more experienced Elle (Hannah Wood) and the young and silly Bea (Rose Webber).

Their excitable presentation combined with the glitzy pyramid set design and loud cheery music, clashes with the seriousness and life-changing subjects they deal with. In stark contrast to the presenters, the participants in the show are serious and look bewildered.

A coffee shop worker (Lorrine Penwarden) explains what it was like to be involved in a terrorist attack the previous week, and then we get a whistle-blower MP (Simon Boulter) who is literally caged up and handcuffed. Should we lock him up for bringing the reputation of the deputy Prime Minister into disrepute or should we reward him? He is interrogated through the novel method of running a Generation Game-type conveyor belt in front him with objects intended to trigger responses from him, for good measure the obligatory (and in this context incongruous) cuddly toy appears at the end. The audience decides what to do with him, though either way, the Government is able to find a way to shut him up.

Hannah Wood as Elle and Rose Webber as Bea

 

Patrick Arnold, Hannah Wood and Rose Webber

Charlie Heptinstall, Victoria Jane Budd, Hannah Wood and Rose Webber

Lorrine Penwarden, Hannah Wood and Rose Webber

Next up, it’s more of a Jeremy Kyle case, where the sister (Melissa Sellick) of a young man (Charlie Heptinstall) bitterly complains that he is going out with a woman (Victoria Jane Budd) twenty years older than him. We vote to say whether this is right or wrong and if they should be punished. There is a neat twist here when we are given further information about their relationship, and it goes to the decision maker to make the final choice.

This shows how voting can be so fickle and down to which facts are highlighted and which ones are suppressed. What at first seems an easy choice becomes more complex. This is very apt, at a time when we’ve had the real fiasco of online voters overwhelmingly wanting to get a Royal Navy research ship named Boaty McBoat Face, and not forgetting the whole Brexit saga!

Politics as a TV gameshow isn’t too far from the truth nowadays when politicians have to have media-friendly profiles and charisma rather than real policies or intelligence. The last segment reveals the inevitable route of this, when we get a woman (Eileen Taylor) begging (via You Tube, where else!) to go to a euthanasia clinic before her pension money is stopped when she reaches 70.

For Elle this is one step too far, but the ditzy Bea doesn’t care about the consequences. Not only does the play expose the limitations and problems of democracy allied with the mass media, during the commercial breaks it also neatly illuminates the behind-the-scenes politics of the programme itself.

By cleverly involving the audience in this future gameshow it makes you think more deeply about the control we have over our own destinies, decision-making and whether the state-of-things makes us more likely to feel short changed rather than empowered and happy.