The Franchise Affair

I went to see Paradise Now! at Bush Theatre. I originally had a ticket for last Friday but that performance and also Saturday had to be cancelled due to illness in the cast.

The show is in the main Holloway Theatre, arranged as a one-sided space with the performance on a raised stage. I think this is the first time I’ve seen productions at BT in that orientation since Class and Yvette back in May 2019.

The stage space has wood panelling with enclosure that open out to represent variously the backdrop of a domestic dining room or restaurant (with kitchen serving hatch) or a bowling alley (with an exit hole leading to skittles off stage. Furniture shuffles across stage and at one point we see the sofa brought in from the right hand side with one actress on board, exit to the left, and then return back to the centre with a second occupant. The cast also assist in switching around props; the large pillar at the back serves as a screen for moments when they all cycle in to the action after some transformation.

The loose plot of this show is around the growth of a business selling “essential oils” by and for women, on a vague franchise model in which individual workers have to work on their own initiative but can rise through the overall movement. Such schemes have really existed, and I remember an old episode of That’s Life from about 40 years ago telling the story of a saleswoman who gave up a good job in a department store because some smooth-talking crook persuaded her to go door-to-door selling discarded stock from a carrier bag. This story of the Paradise company is a bit unclear about the economics, but we are to understand that the operation is more or less legitimate and it has real, original stock to sell, which seems to be quite overpowering on anyone using it. It is a business relying on online videos and social media promotion rather than cold-calling, and although we don’t see those presentations we understand they are effective. The exploitation portrayed here is more emotional – it’s uncertain how Gabriel and Baby were managing to get by on just one wage, before the oil company entered their lives.

And so we quickly set up a cast of 6 modern females who are not succeeding at living up to their assigned archetypes, but letting the Paradise business into their lives seems to improve them. Although the story heads towards a climax in the annual Paradise Now group conference at Brighton, we don’t see the finale or find out too much about Fiona Franks who supposedly devised it all. This is really a revue show of simple sketches with comic women, and would be quite adaptable and expandable into either a single drama or a sitcom for TV (sketch shows are no longer made, it seems). It some ways this is reminiscent of 80s TV feminist comedies like Girls On Top or even Rachel And The Roarettes.

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