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Review of The Pulverised at the Arcola Theatre

The Pulverised - Arcola Theatre - Kate Miles
The Pulverised – Arcola Theatre – Kate Miles – Photo by Dashti Jahfar

There are some minor characters that are named in The Pulverised, which, as a title such as this suggests, doesn’t exactly end with the sheer jollity and exhilaration of 42nd Street. But the major ones as listed in the programme are known, in no particular order, as Factory Worker, Shanghai (Rebecca Boey), Quality Assurance of Subcontractors Manager, Lyon (Richard Corgan), Call Centre Team Leader, Dakar (Solomon Israel) and Research and Development Engineer, Bucharest (Kate Miles). It may be a tad demeaning to define people by what they do rather than who they are, but this is one of the points the play wishes to make: there’s a loss of identity, of sorts, in climbing the corporate ladder, in order to conform to what the company considers important.

I was never cut out for the corporate workplace, wanting to speak freely and doing so, even when warned that such frank and honest talk could ‘potentially damage the brand’. It comes as no surprise to former colleagues that I express my opinions by reviewing shows these days! I don’t think I really needed a reminder, especially one as stark as this play provides, of quite how horrific, idiosyncratic and contradictory the corporate world is. The Factory Worker, for instance, might as well be Fantine out of Les Miserables, such are her working conditions, described in almost excruciating detail. It has, I suppose, some relevance to today’s Britain, despite being a French play, what with lengthening working hours and food banks becoming increasingly commonplace. The world of The Pulverised is very much one where the poor get poorer and the wealthy get wealthier.

It is still difficult, however, to have much sympathy with the main characters, and I felt more convinced by a minor one than any other, an interviewee for a call centre position who refused to accept a more apparently palatable name than her native Senegalese one, a sort of stage name to be used when fielding calls. Needless to say, she didn’t get the job, but she came across as ultimately better off than she would have been if she was more agreeable. For in the world of the multinational corporation, everyone behaves as though walking on eggshells, with disproportionate responses to matters that arise. “If you don’t apply yourself to your job today, you will be applying for a new job tomorrow,” says a Dalek-like public address announcement boomed across the factory floor.

Rather distractedly, whenever one of the characters speaks, the others are lying on the floor. The structure of the play is such that it is necessary for all to be on stage, but the way in which they would shudder as though the beginnings of an epileptic fit were occurring before keeling over was unnecessarily bizarre and eventually comical. I doubt that was the play’s intention. The play does, however, succeed in asserting that everyone who works for this company just wants some peace and quiet, rest and recuperation. If that’s the extent of these people’s ambitions, I can only be grateful I’m not one of them.

Except the characters relentlessly attempt to put forward the notion that members of the audience are indeed being described, with the constant use of the word ‘you’ whenever a character is actually describing their own circumstances and working day. ‘You’ dream of better times when in the shower, says the Engineer. No, I don’t. I’m just having a shower when I’m having a shower. And the show flits too frequently between different narratives. I would have preferred a series of uninterrupted monologues. Here, the audience is just getting into one storyline, when, just a few minutes in – wham – a character hits the floor and someone else starts telling their story.

As everything is described with the level of detail found in the books of JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling, there seems little point in the other characters acting out what the speaking character is talking about. The music and sound effects add little to a script that in itself leaves nothing to the imagination anyway, and while the depictions of the corporate world are commensurate with what people who have come out of the ‘rat race’ testify, the play doesn’t offer anything new. People already know that losing their temper at the satellite navigation device, or any other inanimate object, is irrational, for instance. In a world where more and more people are going freelance, becoming self-employed, starting a ‘portfolio career’, and so on, it seems odd that The Pulverised takes a ‘Hotel California’ approach, where people can check out of the corporate working life, but never leave. The show is, at least, well cast and well paced.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

A quality assurance officer from France, a call centre manager from Senegal, a factory worker from China, and an engineer from Romania. Each leads a life apart, but all work round-the-clock for the same multinational corporation.

When work has no borders, what’s the cost? Alexandra Badea‘s captivating drama is a powerful and disturbing portrait of globalisation and its far-reaching effects on our lives.

Following an explosive premiere at the National Theatre of Strasbourg, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix de la Littérature, The Pulverised arrives in the UK with a new English translation.

The production is generously supported by Arts Council England, the Romanian Cultural Institute and the Institut Francais.

Cast: Rebecca Boey, Richard Corgan, Solomon Israel, Kate Miles

Text Alexandra Badea
Direction Andy Sava
Translation Lucy Phelps
Set and Costume Design Nicolai Hart-Hansen
Lighting Design Tom Smith
Sound and Video Design Ashley Ogden
Sound and AV Associate Tom McKeand
Movement Director Lanre Malaolu
Producers Ellie Claughton and Lucy Curtis for Changing Face
Associate Producer John Tomlinson
Production Manager Suzy Somerville
Stage Manager Tom Gamble
Production Carpenter Nick Lundy
PR Chloe Nelkin

2nd to 27th May 2017
http://www.arcolatheatre.com/

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