“This is the time for you to win.” So goes the mantra of this weird and slightly wonderful play adapted from a short story by the 2014 Folio Prize Winner, George Saunders. It is both a satire of self-help culture and an examination of the fetters of human dependence.
The story is simple and compelling, but the cast brings it to life.
Tom Rodgers is a self-help guru who runs “seminars” to help unsuccessful and unfulfilled individuals find “inner peace.” One of the seminar attendees is the emotionally frustrated and slightly balding Neil Yanicky. The guru reveals that it is always human barriers standing in the way of self-actualisation. It is people that block the happiness of others, people that are “crapping in their oats.” The person metaphorically crapping in Neil’s oats is Winky, his batty, fanatically religious white-haired sister and flatmate.
Although the play is comedic, putting ironic signage and deadpan narration to good use, it follows two sad people shackled together by familial bonds. Weird and sweet Winky is kept afloat by the union, but Neil is trapped, prevented from having the flashy cars, successful career and sexy wife he so craves by the lurking presence of Winky. The guru urges Neil to take back his oats, but would severing ties with his vulnerable social outcast of a sibling be empowering or cruel? It’s an exaggerated portrayal of a common problem, once symbiotic relations turn parasitic and miserable.
The story is simple and compelling, but the cast brings it to life. Neil is pathetic, the Guru is smooth and staring, and Winky potters around the stage looking appropriately confused and endearing. The highlight is Vicky, part narrator, part receptionist, who offers commentary on the action in a fantastically droll monotone that contrasts well with the overbearing oat-talk from the guru.
This slightly surreal show is warm and amusing, if rarely laugh-out-loud funny. If you fancy something a bit off the beaten track then “this is the time for you to go see Winky”.