Katie O’Kelly’s Counter Culture

Counter Culture is a very clever show; so clever that it took me halfway through it to realise that the title is quite a good joke. Set in a department store on a dreary December day, the show quickly introduces a host of eclectic characters, all played by the superb Katie O’Kelly.

Simply put, it’s well-written, amazingly performed show with lots of heart.

The oldest employee is leaving the store, which leads to the setting up of a scheme that allows the boss to move all other staff onto zero hour contracts. The day unfolds with small events on the shop floor as the characters each come to revelations about themselves and the time we live in.

The stage contains only two props – a chair and a clothes rack. O’Kelly uses these in imaginative ways and creates a rather convincing department store. Without any costumes, a change in character is denoted with an expression or physical tick. I caught myself subconsciously mimicking each character as I was so engrossed.

Gemma, the protagonist, is endearing and the facts of her life are teased out in a perfect manner of showing, not telling. The baddie of the piece almost falls into pantomime villain territory but their stage time is brief, so they avoid this fate.

The story zips along and feels quite hectic, achieving O’Kelly’s aim to transport us into a busy day on the shop floor. It doesn’t rush to the ending – that comes naturally – but one character’s change of heart comes so unexpectedly that it’s a bit unbelievable. Unfortunately this flaw in the writing does hold the show back from perfection.

Counter Culture is a great example of why we need more diverse voices in theatre; it’s a show that an angry, middle class, white man wouldn’t write. It’s politically to the left, but it’s fairly gentle – more about the characters than the rage. Simply put, it’s well-written, amazingly performed show with lots of heart.

Reviews by James W. Woe

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

A fair retail fairytale? Don't make me laugh! Welcome to the world of Macken's department store, filled with fake smiles, sales targets and bunions. Four shop employees. One day on the shop floor. A day so jam-packed it is bursting at the seams, and the workers feel as disposable as the clothes they sell. What's all the fuss about the new zero-hour contracts anyways? Whirlwind solo show by Stage UK Best Solo Performer nominee, Edinburgh Fringe 2012. Directed by Fringe 1st winner Donal O’Kelly. ‘Pitch-perfect’ (Irish Theatre Magazine).