Alexandra Badea (Trans. by Lucy Phelps)
Arcola Theatre, Changing Face and York Theatre Royal
Alexandra Badea’s The Pulverised paints a bleak vision of the world, one that sees our society disconnected, cruel and exploitative.
Four characters from four different corners of the world are entangled in their own plight against their immediate surrounding, one that enslaves them, alienates them and dispirits them.
Nameless and only defined by their jobs and the geographical space that they inhabit, they are allegories of globalisation rather than fully developed characters: a factory worker from Shanghai (Rebecca Boey), a quality assurance manager from Lyon (Richard Cogan), a call-centre team leader from Senegal (Solomon Israel) and an engineer from Bucharest (Kate Miles).
As events unfold, however, intimate, more personal details emerge and the audience can grasp a sense of whom they are, of their family circumstances and how they feel. Well embodied and evenly performed by the four actors in their characterizations, it is easy to sympathise with their struggles.
It is, after all, a style of writing that does not fully embrace naturalism but does not totally reject it either. In a style that has become the norm in much of the new writing, we are guided through the narration individually told by the four characters with sparse, stylised dialogical interchanges.
It is exactly this style, however, that contrives the staging of this play under the direction of Andy Sava. The four characters’ stories never cross and the actors only interact in doubling up for the rare moments of dialogues.
We see the bodies of the four actors contorting, coming up and down the ground, where they are forced to stay still waiting to continue their narration. The contortions are robotic movements that do not always sit very well with all the transitions and, as the emotional rollercoaster creates a narrative crescendo, these movements stall it rather than enabling it.
To make things worse, it is the additional stylization: in different moments in the final parts of the show the characters take off pre-shaped planks, to widen an unnecessary, symbolically ambiguous hole in the backstage wall.
This added artificiality, the insistence on keeping up the unnatural contortions throughout rather than varying or leaving them behind and some of the over-confessional tones of the writing towards the end diminish and flatten the depth of a play that would have benefitted from more simplicity.
Overall, it is a production that is not totally confortable with its own material. Even the play itself that won the prestigious Grand Prix de la Littérature in France tells us nothing new but reinstates the sadly obvious, that we live in a society bigger than ourselves, and globalization is the biggest evil of all.
Is it enough to condemn inhuman market-led globalisation and its effects on people’s lives to realise that we cannot really change our society and our lives?
Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli