Harry Bignell reviews The Cult of Kenzo at Camden People’s Theatre.
Taking to my seat red wine in hand, surrounded by the shabby chic settings of Camden People’s Theatre, I steeled myself, unsure if I should be anticipating an intense and damning indictment of capitalism and consumer culture.
Fortunately, The Cult of Kenzo is altogether more lighthearted. A humerous, high paced exploration of the cultish dominance of the fashion industry in modern society, set to a carefully constructed soundtrack of interview soundbites, advert excerpts and voice overs.
Varjack’s energetic portrayal of a young woman wrapped up in the glossy world of fashion yet financially isolated from its upper echelons is painfully relatable. She owns the stage with the energy of an entire cast and single-handedly captivates the audience in an hour-long performance that leaves you pondering why we want the things that we want.
Throughout the play, descriptions of frenzied fashion lovers are juxtaposed with accounts of designer Kenzō Takada’s humble origins, relayed over a film of beautiful Japanese line illustrations. Frantic music and energetic choreography contrasts the accounts of Kenzō’s early years of trying to carve a career in an industry that was, at the time in Japan, unwelcoming to male designers.
Throughout the play, Varjack never strays far from the inexplicable expense, extravagance and absurdity of the fashion industry. She mimics models on the catwalk and flashes up examples of the prices you might find if you stumbled into Dior and stopped to check a price tag before running screaming for the door.
This absurdity, however, is tinged with a humility which prevents the show becoming aggressively disparaging or judgmental. Varjack parodies high end adverts with an M&S style voice overs and directly interacts with audience members, telling them, “you are the kind of person who could wear this dress” – whatever that means!
Her protagonist is a well-educated Londoner on the morning of a book launch who nevertheless finds herself queuing in the early hours of the morning on a chilly bridge in East London for a collaboration launch that she can’t really afford.
Using perfume bottles to represent people, Varjack acts out various interactions between those in the cue, eagerly waiting to get their hands on the goods. The veneration that drives these perfume bottle people out of bed is presented as both preposterous and pervasive; a curious social phenomenon which has become less of an anomaly over time, driven by advertising and celebrities.
Varjack shines a spotlight on consumer culture with humour and a clever combination of music, dance and drama. This is not a damning indictment of the fashion industry or a condemning piece on capitalism. It is a fun and lighthearted depiction of the impact of these things individuals which invites to audience to consider, why do we want the things that we want?
Clever, funny and thought-provoking.