‘You head onto the podium and announce
“Hot desking only”
You don’t speak English
You don’t know what “hot” means
You don’t know what “desking” means
But you know what “hot desking” means’
This award-winning French play that has been staged all over Europe (in virtually every country) needs a British premiere. I decided so immediately upon reading it. It had been highly recommended by a friend, a theatre director in Geneva, who adored it at the Avignon festival. The playwright, Alexandra Badea, is originally Romanian and wrote the script in her second language, French. As a fellow Romanian who lives in London and directs in English, I could absolutely relate.
It turns out that being multi-lingual opens up uncharted territory when it comes to language. The form of the play is unmistakably original, and Badea’s unique writing style is arresting, bold and moving.
I approached Lucy Phelps with the idea of giving this text its first English translation – Lucy is an artist passionate about introducing more French new writing to British audiences. Fast-forward nearly three years, and our joint venture is about to open at the Arcola.
The Pulverised is a deep-dive into a comfortingly familiar world – our jobs and our working lives, but suddenly rendered strange, frightening and comical. As a story it was inspired by a now notorious media scandal: the working conditions in the factories of a certain Chinese manufacturer led to a contagion of suicides. From that narrative, Alexandra Badea went on to develop a forensic exploration of people’s professional lives, their identity, personality and dreams all lost in the vast expanse of today’s multinational corporations.
‘Speaking is forbidden. Laughing is forbidden. Moving is forbidden. Looking outside is forbidden.’
This urgent tale, told from four corners of the world, begins to trace back and decipher the wave of discontent that is engulfing politics today, post-globalisation. In a world shaped by Brexit and Trumpism, the play demonstrates how alike and akin we are, across the continents, despite national differences.
We may live, breathe and speak in worlds-apart, from Paris to Dakar and from Shanghai to Bucharest, but at our core we all have abandoned a childhood dream once we went out to work, in search of a salary. The Pulverised is a journey through what became of those lost children.
With a stellar cast, a Nicolai Hansen set design inspired by the aftermath of calamitous disasters, video projections of cinematic proportions, and an industrial soundtrack to movement choreographed by Lanre Malaolu, the production is bound to prove as inimitable an alchemy as the writing. An unmissable event about the end of a global industrial era, slowly luring us into the future.
The Pulverised runs at The Arcola Theatre from 2 May until 27 May.