Sad Siren Theatre’s The Gods Of Pick ‘n’ Mix was an ode to the tragedy of the 2008 financial crisis and the failings of businesses such as Woolworths to transform and survive. The play was very much a human story, perfectly set in the haunting staging of the basement of the previously empty Sheffield Woolworths. The cast of two (Soraya Jane Nabipour and Joe Boylan) successfully brought back the ghosts of Christmas past, resurrecting the stories of Sheffield residents and the warm esteem in which they held Woolworths as a pivotal figure, omnipresent in their younger years. Stories of toys, Ladybird clothing, pick ‘n’ mix, favourite albums, favourite jigsaws and favourite crisps underpin a very personal narrative. The basement offers the perfect stage for such a tale. Not simply because it is fitting to base the story of the shop in the old retail space, with the myriad of abandoned objects left behind in the rush of the closure each with their own tale to tell; but also because the space itself offers the necessary flexibility to enable the audience to discover their own path.
The division of the performance into sections asked the audience to come on a journey, both metaphorical and physical, through the shelves of the basement and the threads of different individual accounts. The different sections balanced a sense of nostalgia, as the cast worked through the stories of different residents with poignancy as audience members were asked to read the final email thanking the staff for their hard work and wishing them well for the future. The focus changed from collective tales to the story of one individual.
Overall the play was well paced and the balance between collated stories and the story of one representational figure well composed. If I were to find one slight critique it would be that section three felt a little stretched, but this did not take away from the otherwise excellent blend of stories. The usage of the staff shirt in the first section, referred to by the cast only when discussing the store’s demise, was an effective reminder of the many workers who lost their jobs in 2008. Set against the portrayal of the fond memories of the shoppers, it was a poignant reminder that the store was not just the heart of the high street – it was a place of work for many people who were left out of a job just in time for Christmas. The staging cleverly and effectively foreshadowed the slightly darker truths of later sections.
This is a fitting tribute to a bygone age before internet shopping, when Saturday mornings were spent trawling the aisles of food shops, with bored children rewarded by roasted nuts and penny sweets. Woolworths was at the heart of every British high street and Sad Siren Theatre have excellently captured the reason why, in this moving and warm reminiscence of the past and the tragedy of the many lives effected by its closure.
The Gods of Pick ‘n’ Mix played at the Theatre Delicatessen at The Moor in Sheffield until 18 July. For more information, see the Sad Siren Theatre website. Photo: Sad Siren Theatre.