The Customs House
18 September 2013
CCTV-inflicted paranoia, questionable characters and the occasional dead mouse – when combined with a flimsy, stockroom romance, you have the – albeit, dispiriting – recipe for a well-rounded career in customer service.
As Amy Mackelden’s show Retail comes to a close, memories of my own short stint as a sales assistant come flooding back. My supervisor’s cries of “get the emergency soap,” on seeing a customer stumble into the changing rooms with a ring stuck on her finger echo in my head and I could almost feel the pain in my arms, caused by hours of lugging hefty piles of clothes from one place to another.
The one-woman-one-man show paints a picture that has the power to instil a sense of nostalgia into anyone that’s spent (or suffered) any amount of time behind a shop counter. From interview to employment, religious book shop to department store and threats of violence to an undercover manager, we reminisce together and become almost as familiar with Amy’s memories as we are our own.
From the beginning, we’re made to imagine a young woman with her face pressed up against the window of a closed down Blockbuster. Here, she begins to put her inner turmoil into words, as she wonders whether she has thrown away more than she had bargained for (no shop pun intended) for 50p more an hour and better working hours.
Her unguarded honesty makes for a relatable and humorous account of her experiences as a serial sales assistant. We root for her throughout, as she comes up against some difficult situations and, quite frankly, difficult people – never losing faith that she might get exactly what she wants.
The set is purposefully simplistic, scattered with various throwbacks to a time before Blockbuster became the near-extinct entity that it is today, now crippled by the cheap and oh-so-convenient online alternatives. VHS tapes and televisions that, god forbid, aren’t flat screens are used often, but appropriately, to illustrate and assist Amy in the telling of her anecdotes.
Music, provided by Andy Playford, and lighting – as well as the sporadic wearing of Woody Allen-esque glasses on Andy’s part – help to take us seamlessly from one scene to the next. At one point, as Amy acts out a job interview, a spotlight focuses on her, accurately portraying how we’re made to feel during interviews; all eyes and ears are on her and nothing goes unnoticed.
Advertised as a “show for anyone who’s ever worked in customer service, and for anyone who’s experienced customer service, awful or awesome,” I’m sure that anyone, if they look hard enough, will be able to place themselves within Amy’s story.
Are you the over-suspicious manager, the curious colleague or the guy lying, hungover, behind the counter? You’ll have to give Retail a watch before you can truly be sure.
Retail will be at Durham Book Festival on Tuesday 15 October. Tickets available here: http://www.durhambookfestival.com/2013-programme/39-retail-a-show-about-selling-by-amy-mackelden.html