Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Think you have a boss from hell? Think women make better bosses? Think again. In Contractions, a sparky dark comedy by Mike Bartlett, a female boss interrogates and manipulates one of her luckless underlings with grimly hilarious consequences. Through a series of 14 meetings, Emma’s personal life is interrogated under the scrutiny of her manager. Emma is forced to undergo a brutal journey to retain her job and her income – in a sequence of comic work meetings from hell. Written in 2008, it is a thoroughly modern portrait about the suffocating power of work that can disillusion everyone.
Contractions by Sussex University Drama Society is an excellent piece of theatre – richly funny and ultimately moving. Presented in an intimate space at C Nova, Contractions by Mike Barlett is a witty portrayal of a tyrannical workplace pushing its employees to extremes. SUDS shine with a simple and confident staging. The two actresses Imani Robinson and Thea Hope perform with panache and great comic timing.
Contractions follows a series of meetings between Emma and her Manager, punctuated by blue lighting, and slight changes of costume and set to show the passing of time. Maud Goodhart’s expert direction has produced a punchy piece, with welcome breaks between the scenes, creating an episodic nightmare-like repetition. The relationship between the two women is all the audience have and each interaction felt fresh through the repetitions.
Imani Robinson is well-suited to the part of the Manager, maintaining a calm company-line throughout. Her characterisation is vibrant and alive, yet contained. As her material became more absurd during the course of the play she maintained a stoic delivery. A talented comic performer.
This stoicism was contrasted by Thea Hope’s Emma. Beginning defiant and ending desperate, Hope confidently marked each change of emotion. Her descent into near-madness was effective and steered away from melodrama in an engaging and energetic performance.
To make this a great production the technical aspects should be tweaked – some more accoutrements of office life might soften the stage slightly, the black box being slightly too stark. Use of sound might also help, potentially soundscapes to support the heightening emotions rather than just clattery office noises filling the spaces between the scenes.
The audience is left with a dystopian workplace; wondering how far might a corporate workplace go to maintain profits? A bitingly relevant production – anyone who has suffered at the hands of an immovable, commercial enterprise will identify with Emma’s plight.
Very highly recommended – this young talent deserves to be seen.