Arcola Theatre, London – until 27 May 2017
Romanian playwright Alexandra Badea’s The Pulverised (translated by Lucy Phelps from French to English) is an example of what can be done when monologue linked with monologue to create a concise and interesting narrative. Four characters we never see – the employees, all various cogs in a big wheel that is multinational corporation interact with each other. The Pulverised is far from anti-capitalist propaganda but a look at the impact work has, however high up the chain you are.
Badea has managed to create well-rounded characters despite them being credited by their job title rather than by their name (how many of us introduce ourselves by what we do rather than who we are). These characters struggle with the work-life is all too real for anyone
The first and most important cog is Richard Corgan’s French manager, who lives a life of webcam girls, whisky and sheer denial to get through his international working life, awaking into identikit hotels and only remembering where he is due to the luggage tag. His character seemed the least developed and his concluding storyline seemed to have little to do with what the audience had witnessed.
In contrast, Kate Miles’ Bucharest engineer was totally believable as a working mother who installs CCTV because she doesn’t trust her daughter’s childminder and is a control freak, learning French in her commute so she can impress the Lyon manager. When it fails to go to plan her emerging breakdown at her lack of control is probably the most convincing on the four.
The final two characters take us out of the Western world: A Senegalese call centre team leader (Solomon Isreal) and a Shanghai factory worker (Rebecca Boey); at the bottom of the chain they suffer the biggest consequences and their escape routes seem more quaint than the more senior characters.
Solomon Isreal is one to watch; not only did I believe in his character but in a play with lots of, at times, awkward choreography I felt I could look past that and see A man who had his faith, his job and his dreams and yet knows this isn’t enough. Boey’s character feels too similar and with the exception of her sexual exploitation and lower standing (there is a slight theme that all men are sex-obsessed and all women are there for them to exploit and be obsessed by) her journey is too similar to Isreal’s character but she seems to hold back her performance, given beautiful vivid descriptions but lacking in his energy. In fact, the whole things flow beautifully but the energy levels never change.
Working life is sluggish but an audience who probably feels very similar to the characters need something to perk them up. The decision to use video projection and electronic music fails to energise this production and maybe a gentler approach should have been taken to avoid the contrast between the work and staging.