Writer and Director: Yusuf Niazi
Billed as a surreal comedy, Try Harder has its moments but isn’t surreal enough, as its ideas about the pressures on young people are clearly presented, perhaps too clearly, leaving the audience with few metaphors to unscramble. Of the three young people’s lives writer/director Yusuf Niazi examines it is the story of Lucy, the student, which burns brightest.
She meets Sam and Grace at an interview for a job that offers £200 a day, but the three have no idea what the job entails as the advert contained no description. They are all desperate for the money especially Lucy who is trying to juggle her studies at King’s College London and to find a job that will pay her rent. Sam is socially awkward and speaks without a filter. Initially, Grace is a grumpy woman from Croydon.
When the interviewer Joe arrives, he wants them to move chairs from one side of the room to the other. Whoever is good at this task will get the job, Joe implies. This is where the surrealism is focussed: there is no rhyme or reason to their chore. What kind of job could this possibly be training for?
The chair-moving takes up relatively little of the play, and so we get no sense of the pointlessness of the task – or work in general – and little idea of how boring it is. Only once, when they move the chairs to music of Swan Lake, is there a sense of how this idea could be played out. Instead, Niazi’s narrative goes back in time to explain the pressures his three characters are under.
Since she was a child Lucy, played by Cléo Roggenhofer, has been under pressure to do well at school, to go to university in London, and to get a good degree. Her life has already been mapped out for her, and Roggenhofer does well to show a woman who is near breaking point. Sam, played by Toby Moran Mylett in skinny jeans and odd socks, dreams of meeting a woman and getting married, but he’s hindered by a shyness that makes him say the wrong things. Grace, a strong performance from Helen Squires, gets the thinnest backstory, but feels that she has been left behind by her friends who go off to uni and by her girlfriend who cheats on her.
Lucy, Sam and Grace are all broken. They bicker amongst themselves, and argue with Joe ( Darrel Draper) who tells them that they are not shifting the chairs in the right way. Their inability to work together is dispiriting, but that is a product of neoliberalism, one of the causes of the constant pressure they are under and which tells them to try harder.
Niazi’s show, running at 60mins, doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it never really tackles the issues and offers no remedies. There are the briefest glimmers of hope at the end, but the rat race continues.
Runs until 20 August 2022