Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Mike Bartlett’s dark office satire captures the intrusion that is an increasing part of corporate employees’ lives.
Mike Bartlett’s dark satire on the escalating intrusion by major corporations into the private lives of its employees started life as a radio play back in 2007 before moving to the London stage the following year. Its Fringe debut this year takes place in the claustrophobic surroundings of C Nova, which successfully entraps the audience as it does Emma, the employee who has fallen foul of her company’s definition of what constitutes a “romantic or sexual relationship” and who now has to account for her actions to a nameless manager.
In fact, in this Sackville Theatre Company production, there are two Emmas and two managers, the latter in sombre, dark suits redolent of almost anyone in a major corporation these days, with the only colour in the show being provided by the Emmas’ turquoise blouses. The action flits between the two interviewer/interviewees in a way that drew the small audience in to what is a compelling and at times frighteningly realistic story. The stage is set just with two white, flat-top tables and four black chairs, all on casters to which allow swift but effective changes to be made throughout this forty-five minute piece. Even the managers’ PCs, into which every little detail is transcribed, are monochromatic. Lighting neatly picks out the griller and the grilled.
The comic, legalistic definition of what constitutes a relationship soon gives way to intrusions that border on the paranoid as the corporation, through its faceless guardians, seeks to maintain control over its productivity and, ultimately, profitability through its dominance of all aspects of its employees behaviour, including their sex lives. Emma has indeed fallen for someone at work and confesses as much but when the relationship overruns its budgeted timeframe, she finds her swain exiled to distant parts and her life under the complete control of her paymasters. The absurdist, lethal conclusion leaves a number of issues dangling, tantalisingly unresolved.
Sadly, there is more truth than fiction in Bartlett’s prose. Examples are increasingly coming to light of US and UK companies requiring their workers to disclose relationships that go beyond what might be euphemistically described as office collegiate. It’s enough to make you wonder whether going into the office tomorrow really is a good idea.