Isabelle Sorente’s ultra-dark (and ultra-French) script is a very funny and twisted play in the best tradition of close-to-the-bone Gallic humour-meets-terror. Jo Emery, who describes herself as a ‘creative artist working in semi-professional/professional theatre’, directs, designs and performs as a quarter of the ensemble cast. If bringing Hard Copy to premiere in English in London was Emery’s idea, it was a good one. However, the performances in this production lacked the comic timing and instincts it needs to make Hard Copy‘s darkness all the more hilarious and its humour all the bleaker. The themes of the play may be profound and sociological, but the delivery needed to run headlong into the obvious rather than equivocate.
The cast of four identically dressed female office workers, who torment a colleague to an extreme ending, requires layered performances, clear intentions and broad humour. Just as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has enjoyed the talents of both Steve Martin and Rik Mayall as Vladimir, the role of Belle in Hard Copy should have been delivered with the deadpan raunch of Sarah Silverman. Being attractive for men, maintaining one’s figure, clinging to an ideal of ‘seductiveness’ and pretentions of marital success all course through the dialogue and expose the four women’s vulnerabilities and fears that lead them to bully for fear of being exposed and annihilated. A sort of competitive bidding begins with the innocuous ‘so how was your weekend’ with the ability to be alluring to one’s mate as both terrified and aggressive subtext to the question. So when Belle (Lucy Hanneghan) boasts that she spent the weekend offering sexual services to vagrants in a homeless shelter and none of her colleagues bat an eye, the comic potential of the contrast shouldn’t be lost but sadly Emery didn’t unleash Hanneghan to take the absurd and vivid premise to its extreme. If only the cast had spent time in improv with great comic artists and writers learning not to run from but run towards the obvious! Imagine if someone like Katherine Parkinson (as Jen from the IT Crowd) had run riot with that role? It is frustrating that such rich material and an able cast didn’t take the premise to the limits it needs.
Amy Connery as Blanche showed glimmers of comic timing but took her role towards a kind of Mean Girls antagonist direction which isn’t suitable in an ensemble of equal weight (rather than as the deliberately two-dimensional villain persecuting the hero of a teen comedy). Jo Emery herself, as director and cast member, set the tone with a highly mannered but not mannered enough performance as Douce. With such an extreme script, the cast had permission to try every cheap-theatrical-trick in the book but sadly didn’t. Hints of the supporting theatrical business were present with the identical outfits and the absurdity of singling Rose (Lianne Weidmann) for not conforming. Yet the humour pregnant in that situation was not fully realised. When the cast torment Rose for smelling bad, the hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness the script offers by establishing the tormenters include someone who has just completed a messy three-way with hobos, a bulimic and a woman who complains of being too full of lunch during lovemaking should be a comic gift of farcical actions. Instead, we stay on the same note of ‘darkly mannered’. The material of this script requires deep commitment and fully fleshed motivations. General rudeness undermines the menace rather than builds it.
Jo Emery also designed this production’s set and props. Whilst I am full of admiration for her ambition and the instinct to stage this play in the first place, perhaps she spread herself too thin? Rather than having the women gathered around a single table on static chairs, the opportunity to have separate desks retract and re-joining and chairs swivel away and cluster, as to give movement and changes of energy, was lost. As a producer, Emery impresses with her choice of material. I would have liked to have seen her stretch further to collaborate with set designers and comediennes who could have stretched the concept further to realise its potential.
Review by Mary Beer
The Company of Ten gives this one-act French play, by writer Isabelle Sorente, its English language premiere in a translation by Martin Goodman.
The play focuses on four female office workers and the games they play to avoid boredom, including working through their sexual fantasies. Unfortunately, things turn dark when three of the women decide to bully the fourth. The play raises some important issues about this topical issue, including whether bullying can ever be justified.
Sat 29 – Sun 30 June at 8pm