Tom Cruise’s best role is as the motivational speaker in Magnolia. Edward Davis as inspirational seminar leader Tom Rodgers in Winky channels some of the same colossal arrogance and brashness. Shy Neil Yaniky, Joe Boylan, wants his sister Winky to move out, so he goes to one of Rodgers’s seminars to be inspired.
Although the audience takes part in the seminar, wearing party hats and clapping at appropriate moments, the whole thing is also narrated by Vicky (Lauren Stone). Stone has smeared lipstick, bottle-bottom glasses and a bored, nasal voice. She leaves deliberate awkward pauses to undercut the high energy of the motivational seminar.
Rodgers is horrible, shameless. He gets tangled up in his own tortuous metaphors and spews a stream of mantras: “Don’t let anyone shit in your oatmeal”, “If you’re losing, someone is doing it to you”. Davis adds detailed touches, like a little toss and flick of a water bottle as he picks it up to swig from. He acts like the worst sort of charlatan salesman – indeflatably pumped up by self-confidence.
The second half pulls away from the seminar and follows Neil as he makes his way home while geeing himself up to evict Winky, and Winky as she prepares a little welcome home party for Neil. The two of them are desperately tragic characters, and it is inevitable that this is building to a tragic conclusion. George Saunders captures the two sad siblings effortlessly – ‘yugly’, God-fearing Winky and resentful Neil who just wants a wife. Both are quite childlike, oblivious to the opinions of others and this manifests in the design, too, like the primary colours of the bunting Winky hangs and the plastic cups she plays with.
There’s always something simultaneously sad and funny about the last person to take their cracker crown off at Christmas. Winky captures this feeling in the characters, but gives a little of it to the audience too, as they forget that the paper hats are still on their heads. A strong cast and darkly comic writing make Winky a strange but ultimately satisfying little play.
Winky is at Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61) until 24 August. For more information and tickets visit the EdFringe website.