Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
Review by Philip Fisher
The acting and directing in Push Up, the first play by Roland Schimmelpfennig to be produced in Britain, are both outstanding. There is more of a question mark hanging over the play itself.
It is a piece of German existentialism which entertains as it explores the interaction between business and personal life. While there is a fearful symmetry to the action the plotting is minimal.
Roland Schimmelpfennig structures the play cleverly with a kind of prologue and epilogue and three dialogues. Each dialogue is between a senior, experienced worker and a more junior aspirant to their position. It soon becomes apparent that the pairs of characters are really two sides of the same personality, often using the same lines. This creates an interesting effect as the same words take on new meanings as they emerge from different mouths. As the playwright explains through one of his characters, he is looking at situations where people "are in the same room but see completely different things".
The mix between staccato dialogue and interior monologues helps to explain the motivations of the characters as well as the threats and opportunities that they perceive. The tension between them is partly a result of age or gender differences and also related to the competition between people who are too much alike. The overriding subjects are the subtle power struggles often with sexual undertones.
Director Ramin Gray does a fine job in marshalling the strong cast and the sharp dialogue and arguments between characters, in particular are ultra realistic. The acting is always convincing with perhaps the pick, Sian Thomas as the rather sinister, God-like Kramer's wife, Robin Soans as the loser in the battle for "the Delhi job" and especially the very expressive Jaqueline Defferary as an ambitious creative who may be a fraud.
While there is much humour and some great perception regarding the way in which private and business lives work, the answer to the question what does this all mean isn't always fully apparent. It is however still unusual to see plays that successfully illuminate the world of business and in a strange, symbolic way Schimmelpfennig does this.