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Windfall by Scooter Pietsch at Southwark Playhouse

Galvan (Gabriel Paul) is a paradox: an evangelical Christian who plays the lottery. (Those who practise religion are supposed to trust God in all matters, including financial security, rather than buying lottery tickets and hoping for the best.) He not only plays the lottery but has reason to believe he’s received a vision, in which he and the colleagues with whom he shares an open plan office will win the jackpot, and share $500 million between them. To achieve buy in from the other people in his vision, he explains a previous one, which came true. He sets about replicating the vision of the lottery win, despite some curveballs and dilemmas – nobody budgeted for the ‘investment’ (inverted commas mine) required, for instance, so Galvan must double down on the promise of a very, very substantial win to persuade his colleagues to see the plan through.

Windfall - Pamela Raith Photography.
Windfall – Pamela Raith Photography.

Glenn (Jack Bennett) is the archetypal unpleasant owner and director of a business whose staff are failing to meet arbitrary deadlines because they are simply impossible to fulfil. The working conditions are the sort of environment that investigative journalists make documentaries about: being an American workplace, the ability to hire and fire at will (but mostly, in Glenn’s case, to fire) is regularly discussed. At one point, Kate (Judith Amsenga), the office manager, has to forcefully push back on Glenn’s refusal to allow Chris (Wesley Griffith) to leave the building on medical grounds.

Then there’s Jacqueline (Joanne Clifton), Glenn’s new hire, presented to the rest of the team by Glenn with miscellaneous embellishments that Jacqueline later tells the others, out of Glenn’s earshot, are untruths. Why, if Glenn is such an awful person, doesn’t the workforce, most of whom have been there for some years, seek alternative employment opportunities? Galvan’s reasons were the only ones clear to me – he has taken up his proverbial cross and endured suffering in accordance with his religion. Also, if Glenn really thinks his employees are as terrible and incompetent as he says they are, why not get rid of them?

The script isn’t watertight but there are some good twists and turns that keep the audience engaged. Much discussion takes place in the first half of what people would do if they were to strike it lucky and win big. In the second half, the volume cranks up to the max as accusations and counter-accusations run amok. There’s a lot of shouting, and a lot of swearing, which not only demonstrates a lack of vocabulary on the part of the characters, but also that mirrors one another’s behaviour until all that can be seen is different versions of an obnoxious and self-righteous personality. Perhaps it says something with regards to how American life is perceived outside the United States that I sat there, watching physical violence breaking out, wondering when someone was going to pull out a gun.

There is some disclosure of the characters’ personal lives – Hannah (Audrey Anderson) is trying to get out of a bad marriage, while Jacqueline’s home life is altogether more humble than a surname like Vanderbilt might suggest. Displays of violence drew gasps from some in the audience, while others chortled away as the number of injuries began to pile up. It is odd, to me, that a woman’s hair being forced through a shredder is what some people deem to be funny. Still, the cast are impressive in that they sustain the energy the production demands of them. The fighting is done convincingly in what feels like a cathartic release. But it is difficult to care about any of these deeply unpleasant characters in a plot with inconsistencies and the portrayal of a highly toxic working environment.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Pushed to the edge by their maniacal boss, five downtrodden office workers decide to risk it all on a five-hundred-million-dollar lottery ticket in the hope of a better life.

But money changes everything… Co-workers become accomplices, lovers become rivals, and friends become enemies, as the prospect of winning brings out the very worst in everyone.

Just how far will they go to have it all?

Windfall arrives in London following a critically acclaimed run in New York earlier this year.

Adam Roebuck in association with Youda Jin and Marilyn Wilson/POP Productions/Lulubelle Productions presents
Windfall
by Scooter Pietsch
9 FEB – 11 MAR 2023
https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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