Can a pyramid scheme make all your dreams come true? Well, in Margaret Perry’s new play, maybe. Paradise is a multi-level essential-oils company that promises the ‘determined, ferocious women’ that join its team a life of luxury. And for some of them, its little fragrance bottles are the key to a get-rich-quick new reality. But there’s trouble in Paradise; a darkness is close to the surface. Perry’s play is a thorough look into the highs and lows of working for a business chain – even if one too many threads are left hanging by the end.
Paradise’s new employee is Gabriel (Michele Moran), a 63-year-old Irish woman who lives with her knackered sister and ‘life-partner’, Baby (Carmel Winters). Hitherto unemployed, she abandons her meandering days of crisp eating and television watching after meeting Paradise seller Alex (Shazia Nicholls) at a women-in-leadership event. Soon, Gabriel is signed up and ready to create her own business strategy to get the next herd of ‘powerful’ women onboard too.
Perry strikes a balance between finding comedy in her characters’ usually sorrowful states and exploring their naivety. Gabriel – played by Moran with astronomical warmth – is so desperate to ‘buy some sleep’ for her overworked sister, she’ll do anything she can to make money. Alex suffers from extreme panic attacks that leave her breathless and immobile, but chooses to use them as part of her marketing technique. The nervous and slightly jittery Laurie (Rakhee Thakrar) is constantly fighting to sell her product, but ends up pouring money poured down the drain.
It is endlessly watchable stuff. Perry has a knack for writing dialogue that sounds organic in each of her very different characters’ mouths. The siblings’ relationship has competitiveness and adoration interlaced in each of their conversations. And it is truly hysterical, too. Directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart, the solo dance break Laurie performs to scare off an opposing bowling team had me in stiches.
Still, Perry’s script needs a sharper vision. Entire scenes could be wiped out: there’s an unnecessary party sequence, purely to introduce a new person. There’s a lot of filler, albeit quite amusing filler, that makes the play far longer than it needs to be.
It is almost there, though. With the help of Rosie Elnile’s neat conference room-looking set that morphs from one location to another, Perry’s play is both expansive and topical. With a reshape, it could be paradise – soon.