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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

We’re Banking on It! (Monash University Student Theatre in association with Bloomshed), at fortyfivedownstairs - 75 minutes

A contemporary twist on an old fancy, Monash University Student Theatre (MUST) in association with Bloomshed, have taken aim at supermarket greed.

Photos by Elena Ruefenacht


The plot is drawn from the satirical play The Government Inspector (1836) by Russian dramatist and novelist Nikolai Gogol.

 

It is a comedy of errors, satirising greed, stupidity and political corruption in Russia.

 

In The Government Inspector, corrupt officials in an obscure provincial town panic to news that an incognito inspector will soon arrive to investigate them.

 

Fawning over an erroneous inspector was also the cause for much mirth in episode 4 of arguably the most beloved TV comedy ever made, namely Fawlty Towers (1975).

 

Now transpose that concept to modern day Australia.

The context is the seemingly unfettered power of supermarkets, in this case one known as Fresh Food.

 

We’re Banking On It! starts and end with a striking song – The Tiger Lillies’ The Crack of Doom, which I took to with gusto. So striking, in fact, that it would head my Spotify play list. I am not joking. Such an earworm.

 

At the outset, it is performed as a song and dance routine by six of the actors in confronting animal masks, carrying lightweight canes. It makes for quite the first impression.

 

Supermarket chair Richard Ripper (Luca Edwards) has immersed himself in bad practices.

 

He stands behind the catch phrase “We believe fresh food is a luxury, not a right.”

 

In other words, those who can afford to pay are welcome to shop here.

This is a business rotten to its core, where price gouging is worn as a badge of honour and collusion is rife.

 

In on the act are CEO Michael “Mike” Bruce (Eloise Vernon), CFO Michael “Mike” Baggs (John Burgess), the head of People and Culture Michael “Mike” Blink (Cal Darvall) and legal counsel Laurence Stern (Thu Pham).

 

Completing the snow job is PR maven Michelle Savvy (Tiara Pires).

 

The subterfuge is perpetuated by worker bees Biff and Boof Hamm (Sophie Foster and Ava Toon) who are following orders.

 

And then the chair gets wind that a government inspection is imminent. Horror of horrors, not just imminent, but present. A man who fits the bill is in store.

His name is Khlestakov (Kieran O’Baoill), a character drawn from Gogol’s The Government Inspector.

 

With brown paper bags stuffed with money, Richard Ripper and his cohort in crime are ready to splash the cash in order to secure a favourable written report.

 

To add to the subterfuge, the supermarket’s CEO and co-workers hatch a plan to double cross the chair.

 

Further, the hapless Khlestakov, who for all intents and purposes looks the part, milks the situation for all it is worth, capitalising on the ruse.

 

We’re Banking On It! was written by the cast, alongside director James Jackson and associate director Annabel Wemyss.

Fun filled slapstick, with no shortage of gags at the ready, it is all about fast paced antics.

 

The story unfolds through a series of chapters or vignettes.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the larger-than-life characterisations – nine in all – being milked for all they are worth … and then some.

 

Among the cast, there is enthusiasm in spades.

 

I was particularly taken by the representation of the pivotal characters Ripper and Khlestakov and also appreciated the comedic duo Biff and Boof.

 

The name of the game is “disingenuous” and for most – if not all – that is about protecting their back.

Of course, it is evident that Fast Food is on a slippery slope, so it just becomes a question of how far they are willing to go.

 

And the answer – a long way.

 

What is never lost in this hilarity is the tip of the hat to the supermarket duopoly that was the recent subject of a federal government inquiry.

 

In fact, a few lines delivered in that setting have been incorporated into the script.

 

The query that hangs in the air is “fresh food at what price?”, although I am not in any way suggesting shady practices.

 

I will leave that to MUST and Bloomshed who have parlayed the adage “banks are bastards” and run with it.

Let me just add that the gloss well and truly comes off the neon sign, which serves as the backdrop to the production.

 

Clever staging (a catwalk doubles as a boardroom table), creative costuming and strong lighting and sound design enhance the work.

 

Seventy-five minutes without interval, We’re Banking On It! is playing at fortyfivedownstairs until 26th May, 2024.

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