There are so many ways in which to get (or fail to get) the life you long for. Inventive young company Fat Git Theatre’s new show, Winky, takes a wry look at a pair of siblings whose very different paths to salvation have nonetheless left them stuck, metaphorically and quite literally, in the same place.
Neil Yaniky (Joe Boylan) is enthralled to the solipsistic self-help cult of Tom Rodgers, played with perfectly-pitched insincerity by Edward Davis. Rodgers warns his captive seminar audience (us, though the premise takes a minute or two to become clear) that one’s soul at birth is as clean and perfect as oatmeal, and that we all have a duty to prevent the people in our lives from doing what it is people do: metaphorically crapping in our metaphorical oats.
The person crapping in Neil’s oatmeal is, he feels, his sister, Winky (Amy Tobias). She’s a red-faced Jesus-enthusiast who moved in with Neil after (unbeknownst to Winky) her housemates complained about her steadily increasing religious intensity – and Rodgers’s self-help tutorial steels Neil for the difficult task of asking Winky to move out.
Adapted by the company from George Saunders’s short story collection Pastoralia, Winky is an entertaining but all-too-brief examination of how we see our lives and what we hope to achieve from them. With uniformly strong performances and interesting, neatly communicated central themes, Winky’s fault is perhaps in feeling at times like an odd candidate for adaptation. It’s often easier in fiction-writing to provide a sense of closure or catharsis from just spending, say, 20 pages in the company of another person – and whether or not anything much takes place. But the same cannot always be said of drama, and though the journey is fun, Winky ultimately feels a little unsatisfying.
Still, while at first it seems lazy that the play’s eponymous lonely spinster is the butt of the joke, there’s something pleasing in the suggestion that, though something of an oddity, she derives more comfort from her objectively more socially unacceptable religiosity than Neil does from his self-help programme. Saunders and the company slyly suggest that Neil’s immersion in a school of thought which encourages you to blame all misfortunes on the people around you is an empty quick-fix, ill-fitted for plugging the gap in his soul that has left him without the ability or inclination to change his own life.
The comparison between Winky and Neil’s two faiths is also well-conveyed – and the company avoid smacking you over the head with it too much to show you how clever they are, which lesser writer-performers might. In particular, the suggestion that Rodgers is something of a cult-leader relies entirely on a very funny, steely performance from Davis, without being beaten into you by the script.
As theatre-makers, Fat Git are experienced enough now to do what they do with confidence and grace. Nonetheless, adaptation feels a new game to them, and the vast swathes of text lifted straight form the book – although Lauren Stone’s bored narration is entertaining – can make this show feel, at times, like something only half-adapted. The Americanisms left over from Saunders’s story are also a little jarring; even ‘oatmeal’ is a rather American-sounding thing. Though I’ll accept that ‘someone’s been shitting in your porridge’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
That said, Josh Roche’s direction, inventive without feeling gimmicky, and Kate Pearse’s colourful design, give the show an idiosyncratically Fat Git Theatre feel – and they are very much a company to keep an eye on.