Tuesday 6 December 2016

Theatre: Cocking a snook at big business

Emer O'Kelly

Published 26/10/2015 | 02:30

Annabelle Comyn
Annabelle Comyn

The English playwright Mike Bartlett is an intensely political writer. But his politics are thoughtful rather than anarchic and yet manage to be thoroughly subversive of accepted norms. The end result is an explosive detonation of all political correctness instead of the dreary and humourless predictability of agit-prop.

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Contractions began life as a radio play for the BBC, and was adapted for stage a year later. Compass Theatre have co-produced it with Bewley's Café Theatre (lunchtime at Powerscourt Centre in Dublin) nearly a decade later, and it's one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time.

Emma is a brand-new trainee executive in a nameless international corporation, and she's on the carpet. The human resources manager (they're probably called something else nowadays, but I'm defiantly behind the times on corporate jargon) wants to point out company policy: there can be no contact between colleagues of a romantic or sexual nature ... unless the participants inform the company. So if Emma had dinner with Darren, (and she did) is it romantic? Well, there was a candle on the table. And Emma put her hand on Darren's inside thigh in the taxi. Darren responsibly reported this to human resources. Emma says she just wanted sex, and it had nothing to do with love or even romance.

But the company will define romance, thank you very much, she discovers.

The piece progresses to a deeply tragic conclusion, wildly improbable, and frighteningly funny: corporate attitudes are inhuman and insane, according to Bartlett, who produces a positively Orwellian scenario to prove it.

It's a wonderfully savage piece of writing, with two remarkably accomplished performances from Aisling O'Meara as the Manager and Danielle Galligan as Emma, both recent graduates of The Lir Academy. They're directed by Annabelle Comyn, wearing her Lir tutor's hat, and the piece is set and lit by Aedin Cosgrove.

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