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Review of Contractions at the New Diorama Theatre London

Contractions. Fifi Garfield (The Manager), Abigail Poulton (Emma). Credit - Becky Bailey
Contractions. Fifi Garfield (The Manager), Abigail Poulton (Emma). Credit – Becky Bailey

Contractions is one of Mike Bartlett’s workplace-based plays. In this production by Deafinitely Theatre, the UK’s only professional deaf-led theatre company, we are taken to ND2 and a disused trading floor. It’s worth going for the location alone – the strip lighting and shadows of ‘real life’ unfolding above the audience adds an extra layer to this dark comedy exploring faceless corporations. The production also combines British Sign Language with spoken English. If that sounds complicated, it really isn’t. It’s a simple, smartly written play and the site-specific location and Paula Garfield’s tight direction blend well with the themes.

The plot starts simply enough, Emma (Abigail Poulton) is called to see The Manager (Fifi Garfield) and over the course of a series of increasingly tense meetings we see Emma pushed beyond breaking point by the intrusive demands of her employer. Initially, The Manager seems friendly but a little too corporate, but as the play progresses we realise Emma is in a world where nothing other than her increasing sales figures count.

Fifi Garfield plays The Manager, in a performance almost entirely in sign language, and she more than manages to convey the cold bureaucratic horror of the woman, with all her unflinching pushiness. Garfield’s Manager seems to enjoy teasing Emma about her personal life, in particular, her sex life. She takes pleasure in toying with her, knowing she has all the power. Amanda Poulton plays Emma with a practicality and tenderness that touchingly depicts how hard Emma is trying to please her bosses, but how much each compromise is destroying her. This isn’t an easy play for actors, the language is often staccato and Poulton’s role is often to reiterate what The Manager has just asked – but both bring a poignancy and humanity (however strange) to the piece that keeps us fully involved.

Director, Paula Garfield says that she wants this production to be a journey for the audience – that we may not ‘understand everything we see or hear for the first time,’ and there is a strength in this decision. Contractions is a play about the limits individuals may be pushed to by an uncaring corporation, but it’s also about what happens when empathy, communication and kindness are absent.

It’s a powerful, chilling and heartbreaking piece of theatre that although heightened, will resonate with anyone who has ever had an over-intrusive boss or felt trapped in a workplace. This is about power, corruption and exploitation, and feels very timely.

4 stars

Review by Roz Wyllie

It’s very important that you stay healthy.
That the environment you work in is safe.
That you feel comfortable, and secure.
That you feel balanced, safe, and in control.
Are your employers concerned about your welfare? Do they have a duty of care? Emma thinks so, but when she begins a relationship with colleague Darren, her Manager suggests she might be in breach of contract. A series of bizarre meetings follow, during which the consequences of Emma’s actions take on a disturbing quality…

A dark comedy about faceless corporations, nameless management and the boundaries between work and play. Staged in co-production with New Diorama on a disused trading floor, Contractions is Deafinitely Theatre’s first site specific show.

Read our Interview with Abigail Poulton

By Mike Bartlett
Director: Paula Garfield; Designer: Paul Burgess; Sound Designer: Chris Bartholomew
Cast: Fifi Garfield (The Manager), Abigail Poulton (Emma)
Wed 1 – Wed 29 Nov 2017

Tickets can be purchased and picked up at New Diorama Theatre which is situated next door to the Contractions performance space. 

New Diorama Theatre,
15 – 16 Triton Street, 
Regent’s Place,
London, NW1 3BF


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