Arcola Theatre, London – until 27 May 2017
In an abstract sense, it feels as though an apocalypse is approaching. In reality, it is simply the devastating onslaught of globalisation. Four individuals experience this in The Pulverised – they don’t meet, but are nevertheless connected by the same French telecommunications company that shall remain nameless (mainly because it isn’t ever identified). As each individual tries desperately to conform to the standardised corporate blueprint, the cracks begin to show. No mistakes; no slip-ups; no life outside of the job to distract from your purpose. They are pulverised by the space in Lucy Phelps translation of Alexandra Badea’s award-winning script.
This is a realistic dystopia that employs a monotonous monologue structure to grind down its audience. Andy Sava’s direction tries its best to inject pace and personality into a story that doesn’t ever really go anywhere.
Rebecca Boey is a Chinese factory worker, doomed to work within her metre square box; Richard Corgan is an adulterous jetsetter, living out of hotels and airports; Solomon Israel is an overinflated call centre manager, chauvinistic and determined to make his mark within the company; Kate Miles is a Romanian R&D Engineer, neurotic and paranoid about controlling everything in her life. Badea and Phelps narrate their slow decline into chaos that ultimately doesn’t exhibit enough narrative arc to carry the production. Where is the culmination of their efforts? Why don’t they ever meet, perhaps to cement their wavering disbelief in a global corporate entity that they have devoted their lives towards?
The production value in The Pulverised is one of the show’s saving graces. Designer Nicolai Hart-Hansen has semi-exploded a typical office space into rubble. Broken computer screens, half-desks and dismantled office chairs add texture to the crumbling wreck of a set that suspends the moment of impact itself. As the show progresses, the characters remove pieces of the dividing office wall, the collapse of their faith in the corporate norm. The start of the show sees some effective projection by Ashley Ogden that deserves more interrogation and focus than it eventually receives.
As for the acting, Kate Miles is the starring character here. A dedicated engineer, neurotic mother and overall control freak, she employs guerrilla tactics to keep tabs on her babysitter while masterminding a digital symphony from the comfort of her office chair. Miles stalks the set with intensity and an eye for detail, noticing and pointing out every flaw in others to conceal those within herself. She has a grasp of the complex, detailed text and exhibits a fluid pace when running through the many lists present in her consciousness, reading them aloud as she has done a thousand times before. The others (Richard Corgan, Rebecca Boey and Solomon Isreal) all give convincing performances too under Sava’s watchful eye – any actor not present in the monologue is strewn across the floor like a blast casualty, only rearing their heads to voice other characters in a bleak monotone. The transitions between successive scenes are a clever device from Sava; the actors electrically revive themselves to re-enact their scene before robotically powering down and conserving energy in the name of the global corporation they serve.
Think French, be French – aim for excellence is the mind-numbing slogan of the central corporate in The Pulverised. But as each character aims for perfection, the cracks begin to show. This is true of the show itself too. The concept, unlike the back wall of the set, has a solid foundation, but the resulting show is built from a story ultimately progressing nowhere. Sava’s myriad of clever directorial devices cannot compensate for a grey, lacklustre narrative.