Vinay Patel's fine satire on the age of outrage comes with a headachey production
I really liked Vinay Patel’s absurdist satire about a woman whose life is ruined after she says a never-disclosed Bad Word during a high pressure work presentation.
I really didn't get on with Stef O’Driscoll’s hyperactive production, which frisks around annoyingly, desperate for the attention you’d have given the arresting premise anyway.
It’s a smart play, which grows on you. Katherine Pearce’s bolshy businesswoman B works for some undisclosed company, and believes she’s on the cusp of her big promotion, which she confidently predicts will be offered to her when she aces the next presentation.
She’s confident she’s smashed it – but her male colleague (Jack Wilkinson) is uncomfortable with an apparently highly obscure slur she unwittingly deployed during the pitch.
The clients don’t in fact mind; or they don’t until the slow whispering campaign against B finally reaches them.
Patel amusingly probes the contemporary culture of outrage and performative wokeness: ‘Sticks and Stones’ remains wilfully opaque with regards to what B said, whether it was really that bad, and if any of the people professing to be disgusted by her really care, or are just getting high on their own morality. Whether or not she’s being treated fairly, B is also hardly without blame: she refuses to consider that the word might be offensive, but she also instinctively ostracises a fellow worker just because there’s a rumour that he’s in some sort of (again) unnamed rightwing organisation or other.
The casting is potentially as sly as the langage: the actors (Pearce, Wilkinson and Charlotte O’Leary) are white, but it’s strongly – if again, deliberately non-specifically – suggested that not all the many characters they’re playing are. Patel is a fairlly well-known Twitter user, and it’s not hard to imagine the vagueness of identity, perpetual self-righteousness and singling out of a woman to attack as equivalent to the platform at its most toxic.
So that’s all great, but deary me O’Driscoll’s production. It is dementedly overstyled: the cast and dance and prance and perform vigorous workout routines, while certain words are greeted with sound cues and abrupt lighting changes. I think perhaps their actions are meant to come across as literal virtue signalling, or wokeness performed to the nth degree, but it feels like a rapidly exhausted novelty that’s at least partly derived from the director getting carried away with the Roubabout’s fancy lighting rig. It doesn’t undermine the good work done elsewhere in ‘Sticks and Stones’, but it makes it more of a chore than it should be.
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