Fringe Online 2020
We open on the manager awaiting Emma, a sales person who has been called into her office. In a series of interviews taken over a prolonged period of time, Emma discovers that her relationship with co-worker Darren falls foul of the company policy on romantic relationships. From some mild flirtation to full on relationship before falling pregnant, we have the relationship charted through these formal conversations between the employer’s representative and the employee. Throughout the revelations and discussions with “The Manager” Emma is also forced to confront the fact that Darren has always been interviewed before her. Darren eventually gets sent to Kiev, a suggestion is made that their child should be killed and once Emma has buried her son Stephen, Emma does return to work.
This is an absurdist comic take on how the pressure on people in work has started to increase in its invasiveness. It’s a brilliant piece of work that does come across through Emma, played with great subtlety by Abigail Poulton. To work properly, the script needs both audience and the actors to buy into the reasonableness of the unreasonable nature of the manager’s requests. As a counterpoint the manager, here played by Fifi Garfield, has to have an aloof, almost haughty status.
It is here that I had my first issue. The manager, rather than being just a cipher, a representation of corporate greed and manipulation, needs to feel like they do care, or they have a humanity that has become twisted. In short, they need to be believable otherwise it is simply a cutout character. Garfield cuts an arrogant figure, meaning that some of the exchanges have become black and white and lack the subtlety that Poulton brings. This was even more so obvious when the mess was created within the manager’s office with papers strewn across the floor; the strict approach taken to the manager suggested that she would have someone clear it up or be looking for a far more efficient system of filing.
Part of the issue may be – and I understand the irony here – that being a hearing person without a working knowledge of British Sign Language, I could not access the Manager’s performance as she signed throughout and did not have any subtitles or voice over until towards the end. Imagine a hearing person finding something inaccessible – I have the guilt in place.
The audience reaction to the exchanges also told me that for those who were BSL fluent they were also not finding a lot of the humour in the play.
With those being directorial decisions Paula Garfield has brought something to the stage that has therefore limited its appeal, however, to be totally fair, d/Deaf audiences have had to deal with that for some considerable time. The piece has a firm directorial hand on it and the whole piece felt assured and well understood in its form.
It has a functional stage set which designer Paul Burgess has provided. I would have loved a little more of the background cameos when we saw Emma in her office space as I think they added so much more to the piece. The use of the chair to denote distance between Emma and manager was particularly effective towards the end.
Also, again quite ironically, the soundscape worked very well as the interludes were effectively presented for us.
The major impression I took away form this was of a confident company who have found their skin and inhabit it well. That they represent the d/Deaf artistic community is more than welcome, but they should be a launching pad for more. As such they have provided an excellent piece of theatre that could have done with refinement, however it does challenge perceptions and prejudices.