The Win Bin reminds me of RashDash’s We Want You To Watch from earlier this year. They are both argumentative works whichunabashedly take feelings as their premises, and combine them through funny sketch-like scenes to create ugly and complex mind maps ofugly and complex situations.
Even though The Win Bin is ‘set’ in the future, a sketched-in dystopia where there is only one job remaining in the arts and it is gained through an endless application-cum-gameshow, both works are protests about the present, protests that are difficult to express logically without becoming overburdened in the politics of the issue at hand – in RashDash’s case with pornography, and in The Win Bin’s case with arts funding, freelancing and competition. In a theatrical context, expressing frustration, anxiety and anger so well provides a more solid and familiar footing for discussing these difficult issues than sound reasoning. It shouldn’t be surprising that theatre can operate in this way, but we still often reduce new writing to “thesis plus voice” – in both We Want You To Watch and The Win Bin the strength of feeling conveyed surpasses both of these considerations.
The hamster wheel of funding applications, interview panels, speculative self-promotion, forced self-definition and repeated rejection is all too familiar to British artists in their 20s and 30s. As a Big Brother Dermott-style voiceover chirps at The Win Bin’s fictional finalists for that last great job, you must always be optimistic, grateful, hungry. The genuine desire amongst young artists to be generous and collaborative is constantly at odds with the scarcity of prospects, especially those with renumeration.
The Win Bin foregrounds this feeling again and again. Six characters played by two performers Kate Kennedy and Wilf Scolding feels like an absolute crush of young artists. Two of the characters, Tread and Flap, used to be in a relationship, and you seem them navigate the altruistic/competitive drives in every sketch-like scene. The conversations between Knock and Bash, the show’s neurotic protagonist, reveal the massive disparity between one young person’s expectations of working in the arts and another’s. But simultaneously, as we watch the interactions of the finalists, every action and every personal revelation is under suspicion. The gatekeepers are watching, and as in The X Factor, a sob story might be a good start. Kennedy, whose Offie-nominated performance in Catastrophe was a stand-out of Three Short Plays by Samuel Beckett at the Old Red Lion earlier this year, is similarly excellent here in another collaboration with Sara Joyce. She and Wilf Scolding flick between their three characters apiece with incredible skill, deft mannerisms and distinct voices.
Not every scene works, and I looked forward to a climax that threatened those unseen gatekeepers which never actually came. But it’s a show of the present moment, and present problems. It stays with you and niggles at you, and the interviews that open and close the play, with Kennedy caught in the headlights, inarticulate and desperate, will be the emotional starting point for many artists discussing their ability to make art and a living at the same time.