Paradise Now!

Margaret Perry
Bush Theatre
Bush (Holloway Theatre)

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Laurie (Rakhee Thakrar), Alex (Shazia Nicholls), Carla (Ayoola Smart), Anthie (Annabel Baldwin) and Gabriele (Michele Moran) Credit: Helen Murray
Laurie (Rakhee Thakrar), Alex (Shazia Nicholls), Anthie (Annabel-Baldwin) Carla (Ayoola Smart) and Gabriele (Michele Moran) Credit: Helen Murray
Anthie (Annabel Baldwin) and Carla (Ayoola Smart) Credit: Helen Murray

Employment can be difficult and precarious. Many of the strikes now taking place are about employers trying to increase profits by changes to working practices, whether that means driverless trains or delivering postal mail by gig workers rather than permanent staff.

Margaret Perry’s gentle satirical glimpse of some women caught up in an exploitative sales exercise illustrates the gap between the claims of such practices and the reality of their impact on sometimes vulnerable people.

Gabriel (Michele Moran) needs something to fill her life, something that might also help her younger sister Baby (Carmel Winters) who works long days standing in a shop where the rule is that she can’t sit in a chair placed beside the changing rooms she is responsible for.

The play opens with Baby suffering the additional problem of having taken a glancing blow from a passing car. That doesn’t improve her mood any. Something different needs to happen and that makes Alex’s pitch for the company Paradise and its marketing of essential oils all the more attractive. She tells Gabriel that “you work for yourself, whenever you like, wherever you like.” Of course, Alex (Shazia Nicholls) will for every sale “get a little bit of what you make.”

As Gabriel joins team meetings and conferences, she meets other women. There’s Carla (Ayoola Smart) and her girlfriend Anthie (Annabel Baldwin) whom she met in a bar and Laurie (Rakhee Thakrar) who claims to know Alex in a special way from the past, but in what capacity remains a mystery.

The humour is generally character-driven, with Laurie getting a lot of laughs from her awkwardness which includes her relaxing with oils at a party and sliding to the ground. But the behaviour of others also raises a laugh. And when the audience isn’t laughing at them, they can laugh at the deliberate stage business of, for instance, stagehands moving a sofa too far across the stage and having to bring it back.

The play can seem like a light situation comedy with a serious point to make about an exploitative business, but you can’t help also feeling over the twenty-eight scenes and nearly three-hour running time that the seriousness takes second place to getting laughs from a bunch of harmless, quirky characters.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna