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.