Michael Vinaver, translated by Catherine Crimp
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
"Power makes the hearts of those who hold it hard."
Revived in the middle of an economic crisis, with shades of television series Absolute Power and staged just as the film In the Loop arrives at cinemas nationwide, Vinaver's multi-layered script could not be riper for revival. Despite originally being written in 1979, the tale of a French company selling tanning products remains a merciless portrayal of the hard edge of business.
A larger company in America which has high expectations and expects fast results owns the French company 'Bronze X'. Unfortunately they want these very results just as a Princess dying from skin cancer undertakes a series of television interviews in the lead-up to her death. Due to this media attention and public fascination (horribly reminiscent of publicity surrounding Jade Goody), sales of tanning products tumble and repercussions are felt throughout the company (and wider business world) with both managers and workers fearing for their futures.
With a cast of twenty (most of whom play more than one character) this show is fast paced and demands complete attention from its audience. As the plot unfolds much like a jigsaw puzzle not all scenes begin and end obviously and conversations overlap, remain unfinished and change emphasis without warning.
Performed in the round, with a set consisting of one central table and three benches, it is as minimalist as the dialogue, but with so many actors moving in and out of the space the hustle bustle of the corporate world is effortlessly implied. With the American bosses on one bench, two workers on another and the Princess and interviewer on the final, every viewpoint is covered and to share with the audience these views the actors also change benches.
The tone of the piece reflects the hypocrisy of business with earnest and serious discussions interspersed with gossip and marketing spin. There was perhaps more humour in the piece than the audience were expecting and some of the comical lines got swallowed up in the unrelenting storyline. However there were some superbly absurd comic moments that were appreciated, including the repetition of responses to retailers' concerns and the general absent-mindedness of the American chief upon whom all of their jobs rely.
With strong performances from all of the cast and an intelligent plot weaving a web intertwining all the levels of the 'Bronze X' staff, this is a production that will exercise and tire your mind whilst enhancing any cynicism you may already have harboured for big business. With profit to make there is no room for justice, only survival of the expert and of the lucky.
Until 30th May
Reviewer: Amy Yorston