Exhausting drama about globalisation
This play about the ground-down workers of a multinational corporation is aptly titled: by the end, you also feel crushed. While it’s appropriate that a show about how globalisation brutalises humans should make you feel the grind, it also makes Romanian writer Alexandra Badea’s play (translated from the French by Lucy Phelps) a pretty hard sell.
Badea splits the story between four characters: a factory worker in Shanghai, building circuit boards at a mechanical pace (Rebecca Boey); a French quality assurance manager, who flies all over the world turning a blind eye to conditions (Richard Corgan); a call centre team leader in Senegal (Solomon Israel), and an ambitious engineer in Bucharest (Kate Miles). Each speak in the second person, present tense – ‘you aim for excellence’, ‘you are pulverised by the space’ – which lends a curious but initially driving momentum. It also – bad luck – calls to mind Kieran Hurley’s more arresting vision of disconnected modern society, ‘Heads Up’, which used the same technique.
To Ashley Ogden’s juddering, ominous electronic soundtrack, the actors twitch in and out of life like corporate zombies, as stories slowly connect. There’s something satisfying to this mapping of the global market, and Badea generously affords sympathy to the stresses of the jargon-spouting manager as well as the abused factory worker. Even if the latter obviously suffers the greatest injustice, everyone’s lives here have a relentlessness that drives them to desperation. And all four actors are good, realising this with considered, focused intensity.
For the first 45 minutes, director Andy Sava’s production is a tightly-paced assault, reminding us of the human cost of our consumer goods. But it far out-stays its welcome, and the early, nervy energy turns into a drudging conveyor belt of relentless misery. We hear of stress after stress – traffic jams, mortgage advisors, bullying bosses, unpaid overtime – modern miseries we’re frankly all too familiar with. Finally, these gear-shift up into genuine horrors, but by then you’re already so worn, there’s little dramatic impact.
Designer Nicolai Hart-Hansen provides an effective set – office furniture drowning in gravel, smashed ceiling tiles and computer circuits dangling above. But the portentous removing of large chunks of the back wall feels clunky, a symbol we don’t need. By the end, we get that there’s cracks in the system, that everyone’s just a hair’s breath away from falling apart. We really, really get it.
BY: HOLLY WILLIAMS