Hamilton Fringe 2016
Not all is well in Hell. Numbers are down, despite undiminished levels of depravity among mankind; the whole corporation is in serious debt; and Lucifer’s secretary has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Into this debacle steps Laura, the replacement secretary, and the whole underworld is about to get turned upside down…
Hell has been depicted in many and varied ways over the centuries – the bizarre, dreamlike visions of torment in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch; the barren, psychological enclosure of Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit; Dante’s complex nine-circle-system in the Divine Comedy; Bill & Ted’s bogus journey. And while I can hardly know for sure whether Olivia Fasullo’s interpretation is completely original, it is most certainly a novel take on the subject.
This Hell has no fire, no tormented souls, and not even any brimstone, whatever that is. There are occasional sounds of torture, but even these are undermined in a wonderful comic twist that I won’t reveal. No, the hell you’ll see depicted here is one with which you will be a lot more familiar. This is corporate Hell – a Hell of board meetings, deadlines and red tape. The show’s central metaphor, linking multinational corporations with the embodiment of evil, is a masterstroke that provides rich satirical pickings.
The writing largely lives up to the premise’s promise. The dialogue is quick-witted and littered with clever cultural references, some of which it wears on its sleeve (Charles Ponzi – of Ponzi Scheme fame – makes a personal appearance), while others are a little more obscure (the lead character’s surname may or may not be a reference to a certain notorious war criminal). Aspects of the writing could do with an iron, though: I was a touch confused by some of the denser plot twists, there were a few loose ends, and the show’s inevitable denouement could perhaps have been constructed a little better. Also, while the play attempts to deal in an even-handed way with themes of gender equality in the workplace, it has a habit of reinforcing, rather than challenging, the stereotypes that it highlights. Overall, though, the script is impressive and showcases a comic playwright with a great deal of potential.
It would be fair to say that the acting standards on offer here are not all painted with the same brush. Thankfully, though, Emily Wicks is very strong in the part of Laura Nimmler, and serves as a a reliable and understated fixed point at the play’s centre. Jack Preston, as Lucifer, is also very funny – his acting may be unpolished, but he plays a wonderful crude caricature, and steals almost all of the show’s laugh-out-loud moments.
The programme does not specify whether the theatre company’s name – Referendum Productions – refers to any democratic principles under which they operate, but for me personally it resonates very strongly. Because, as a UK citizen with a global outlook, this is not the first Referendum of late to have plunged me into hell. If only I could profess as much hope for the future of my own country as I have for this bright-eyed, plucky young company. This is a laugh-a-minute satire with much to recommend it.