'Pendulum's Bargain Emporium' – Maison Foo | Edinburgh 2013
Maison Foo’s last Edinburgh show, 2010’s hit ‘Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin’, was so notorious for its elaborate set that a movie of their ten-minute set up became a Fringe internet hit. This time, we’re met with a far simpler backdrop of packing boxes and trolleys – all facades are being stripped away.
For ‘Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium’ is a potent and surreal satire of consumerism and cheap labour. This is a skewed version of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ story. Here the Shoemaker’s wife, latching onto the profitable possibilities offered by re-selling mass-produced shoes rather than painstakingly handcrafted ones, has built up a retail empire, to the chagrin of her husband who reveals the tale.
The performances are excellent and most, if not all, parts of the show work well – the audience interaction, a stream of insults and sales pitches delivered with a delicious veneer of insincere charm; and the progression of the Shoemaker’s wife from a simply puppeteered dress to a blue-haired Anna Wintour-esque fashion mogul, all sunglasses, stiff arms and stiffer polystyrene face.
There's also a gruesome reworking of the story of 'The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe’. She is a source of cheap foreign labour, churning out babies to order. These unfortunate infants appear as simple but effective puppets, made of baby blankets and dummies, working a bank of sewing machines.
But somehow it doesn’t quite cohere. Several elements are overworked, in particular the Shoemaker’s doctored story tape – where he’s overlaid the “truth” of his wife’s rise onto a classic children’s recording of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’. But we already understand everything that this reveals, the simple juxtaposition of stories would be clearer and more provocative. The broader mapping of fairytale to consumerist myth is also almost too well worked out, it makes the whole feel a little bit simplistic and stodgy, where it wants to be sharp.
'Pendulum's Bargain Emporium'