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General Secretary – Thick ‘n’ Fast/ Applecart Arts

Reviewer: Emma Sullivan

Writers: Cassie Symes and Georgina Thomas

General Secretary: ‘from taking minutes to taking charge’; it’s the story of two young women with dead-end admin jobs catapulted into power at the UN. Livestreamed, the show, a ‘comic journey through power and diplomacy as two highly unqualified women are suddenly landed in charge’, offers a classically screwball premise, with a lot of comic potential, but, while there are some great gags, the show lacks the necessary zany energy to wholly work, and the satire isn’t always sharp enough.

There’s no doubt the duo has funny bones though, and the opening scene with them at their kitchen table captures their easy chemistry. ‘Working’ from home, their slack jawed scrolling is only occasionally interrupted by the odd work call or email, until that is, the call from the UN comes through. This is the first of Symes and Thomas’s many alternative roles – as heavily accented, haughty UN senior staff under orders to offer Cassie and Georgie the top job.

After some discussion – worried it might be quite stressful, the pair agree that it’s not as bad as an offer to do a musical – they get down to the serious work of curating one another’s Twitter feeds; Georgie wondering whether a salacious joke about Justin Trudeau should stand given their new statesperson status. The incongruity between their vapid concerns and the high-powered world of international diplomacy is nicely played out.

We shift to a new location, and there’s an amusing medley as the pair dutifully begins their research and start work on their policies, fielding a flood of calls from world leaders: the Pope, Justin Trudeau. Wracked with nerves and hopelessly out of their depth, Cassie and Georgie’s first public appearance isn’t a success, so they Google ‘on the job training’ and find ‘Techy Bois’, a YouTube channel hosted by a couple of bros (also played by Symes and Thomas) whose gallery of dodgy how-to films include ‘Breaching the Pentagon’. Techy Bois are sponsored by Enpotenza, a shadowy tech company headed up by Brett Powers (Thomas), a baby-faced Silicon Valley exec. This strand of the narrative initially feels a bit tenuous, until we remember that tech companies are now fundamental to the circuits of global politics.

The women’s initial idealism quickly turns sour, because, as we all know, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely, right?’ It’s Enpotenza’s Brett Powers who ultimately takes the blame though, stepping up as the villain of the piece, and while this seems a bit of a get-out, anything darker about women’s equal capacity for corruption in such an unabashedly light-hearted piece would be out of place.

The scenes dropped in from elsewhere (Brett Powers in his aspirational loft space, the snide newscasters from their TV studio) are often funny, but they confuse the theatrical identity of the piece. There’s much in the show that’s happily lo-fi, but the visuals in these scenes are actually pretty convincing – with shades of Saturday Night Live, or Bamous; TV shows which also rely upon recognisable graphics for their satire, and these elements seem at odds with the sequences in obviously theatrical spaces; the scrappy backstage area and the stage itself. The comparison with TV sketch satire is obviously unfair given the difference in resources, but the scenes do make the theatrical location seem a bit arbitrary.

There’s clearly a lot of similarly hybrid forms in the new digital landscape struggling with similar issues, and it’s difficult to know how to resolve them in this instance. However, there are a lot of creative ideas in the show, and plenty of good jokes, which, with snappier editing and sharper direction, could be given the chance to really land.

Runs here until 24 April

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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