Writer: Farine Clarke
Director: Samantha Pears
It’s the late 90s and the newspaper industry is in crisis. People are going digital and both readers and revenue are quickly dwindling. The board at a once profitable newspaper is undergoing an acquisition merger with another newspaper, who is seemingly beating the trend by maintaining its readers and focusing on what the audience, rather than advertisers want. But the stereotypical, profit hungry directors don’t care about integrity or readers’ wishes; they just want to grow as quickly as possible, removing anyone who gets in their way.
Although it would be great to say that Farine Clarke’s narrative is no longer relevant in today’s society, it’s unfortunately far from it. With women and minorities still fighting for power and to have their voices heard, this play is a lot more topical than you would hope. Although there have been marginal improvements since the 90s within workplaces, the underlying ‘boys club’ culture is still very much prevalent in many environments. Clarke does a fantastic job of highlighting the inequalities and subtle (as well as unsubtle) prejudices that occur on a daily basis. Her writing is fast-paced, clever and confident, often paralleling the style of The Thick Of It with its conceited characters and satirical focus.
Each character is cast perfectly into their roles with an ideal balance of power and influence ranging from the overbearingly arrogant Christian (Louie Keen) to the mild mannered finance director Charles (Mike Duran). Natalie Lauren Woodward shines as lone female Arabella, fighting both for change, and to be taken as seriously as she deserves. The fast-paced dialogue between each character heightens the tense atmosphere and establishes seniority quickly. It’s great to see the unfazed, egotistical, dismissive style of Keen’s character clashing with people he deems lower than him, while also seeing him shrink in comparison when around the even more bullish Alex (Derek Jeck) or quietly powerful Sunil (Adil Akram). Cal-I Jonel’s character Kelvin, is the real catalyst in the first half, lighting the fire on the biases that he experiences – with Jonel displaying success and morality within each scene he appears.
While the first act is a consistent insight into corporate board meetings and company politics, the final act, although starting in a similar way , goes a bit leftfield and takes the narrative somewhere completely unexpected to a shocking conclusion. Even though the farcical surprise is a welcome and intriguing addition to Clarke’s script it doesn’t feel as though it fits within the rest of the piece and almost belittles the earlier build-up and refined character development.
The makeshift on-stage meeting rooms are easily distinguishable, altering slightly between each scene to establish new locations. Additionally, breaking up the scenes with ominous red lights and countdowns is a clever way to reinstate the pressure cooker environment at the office. These small touches add an extra level of attention to an already well thought out performance.
Don your best business attire and enter the boardroom at The Bread & Roses Theatre, just don’t be surprised if you end up leaving with a P45 in hand!
Runs until 11 September 2021