Posts Tagged ‘royal court’

Review – Ding Dong the Wicked – Royal Court

October 4, 2012

Who isn’t up for a little bit of structural fun in a play, especially when it’s NEW WRITING and TWENTY MINUTES LONG and by an awesome playwright and TEN QUID? Well, not me, anyway, so when my Italian class got cancelled at the last minute I suddenly found myself with a window of opportunity to run to the Royal Court to see Caryl Churchill’s new playlet, Ding Dong the Wicked. The schedule for it is quite bizarre, with most showings at 6:30, but since you’re done at 7 this means you can fit in another show if you’re quick off the mark (and, say, heading to the National or maybe seeing a 7:45 show).

As a play, the story, such as it exists, is that people are gathering together before sending someone off to war. The country appears to be some nationalistic place; the people against which they are fighting is unspecified. Given some vague hints (in the title), I had this feeling that the Munchkins had invaded and the person being kept prisoner upstairs was the Wicked Witch of the West. But at no point was anything said along these lines; you never know who the protagonists are at war with, or what, if anything, the title is referring to.

What is fun about this play (and makes it well worth a visit) is its structure: as a play, it unspools like a villanelle (here’s a nice example by Auden, this Plath one is also excellent). The two halves of the play seem to nearly entirely reuse all of the dialogue of the first half; but the speakers are changed and even the phrases are broken up, so in one the words of a woman talking about being bullied as a child change to two people’s words, out of sequence, about abusing someone and hating a certain kind of skinny woman. I relished seeing how the meanings of the exact same sentences bent and flowed depending on who said them to whom and in what order – it was really just a lot of fun. Still it was a bit mentally exhausting, and in the end I was glad the play was short enough that I didn’t have to break myself trying to make all of the connections.

Still … for a hardcore theater goer, this was well worth the trip to Royal Court, and made me want to see more of Caryl Churchill … or, perhaps, to read it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012. The play continues through October 13th.)

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Review – Love and Information – Royal Court Theater

September 23, 2012

A long time ago a theater far from the bright lights of the West End set itself a course dedicated to new theater. This being a risky venture for profit making theaters, many looked upon this decision and thought it was good, both the hard core theater fans looking for a new buzz and the conservative programming directors at the big theaters. And the seats were cheap (and huge and made of Corinthian leather) and the theater was usually full. And it was good.

And then, well, some of the productions became very popular. And then there were West End Transfers and queues at the box office and the website was overloaded at the start of booking and even for those who were supposedly Friends there was the bitter disappointment of The Shows That Would Remain Unseen. And lo, the secret was out, and it was fork over for the transfer or suck it, and as a special bonus we’re going to make the tickets for the most popular show of the year available on a luck only basis. Great was the gnashing of teeth, and many were the rendings of the friends memberships.

Hey ho, the fall of 2012 is upon us, and I’m pleased to report that the Royal Court is consoling us for the shows we weren’t able to see by providing us with a run of shows that will make us believe we’re actually not missing anything when we’re forced by finances or the vagaries of the ticket allotment system to stand one out. I present as proof Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, a collection of 50 miniscule scenes that hit the subjects of the title without illuminating them. It’s as if Churchill was given the task of creating fifty audition pieces and we get to watch the entire collection performed in sequence.

I’ll admit, the audience did laugh, and there were wee moments of poignancy, but I was grossly disappointed by a show that made me feel like I’d been channel surfing.  I found myself thinking,”This show was perfect for the Royal Court,” but sadly I thought this because its deeply literate audience is able to roll with a non-standard format rather than just walking out even when it proves itself unworthy of their time. I want things to be perfect for the Royal Court because they’re new and awesome, not because no other theater would waste their audience’s time with it.

I love my cheapie £12 seats at the Royal Court because they so regularly have overdelivered value; what a change (and a disappointment) to walk out thinking, “Thank goodness I didn’t pay any more for that …”the third time running.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, September 21st, 2012.)

Review – Jumpy – Royal Court

November 17, 2011

Although there are only three more days (and four more performances) left for Jumpy at the Royal Court, I would be ashamed to not write up this truly excellent show.

I was a bit disturbed by hearing the play was about “mother daughter relationships” and “turning fifty.” This sounds to me like an excuse for a bunch of self-indulgent navel gazing followed by a treacely group hug. But it was much more about the relationships between the people in the play and the fact that as the people keep changing, the relationships have to change, too. The fact that nothing stays the same seems to be what’s making Hilary (Tamsin Grieg) stress out – it’s bad enough that her skin is sagging, but to have to deal with her nightmarish daughter Tilly (Bel Powley) and then possibly losing her job – it’s no wonder she’s feeling anxious. But her one consolation – her sexless, though not loveless marriage to Mark (Ewan Stewart) – turns out to not be as immutable as she hoped.

This seems like a recipe for a depressing play, and it could have been, but instead, it’s absolutely hilarious. Some of that is due to Hillary’s friend Frances (Doon Mackichan), who in one ten minute scene set a new standard for inappropriate behavior during a play (or, in this case, during a family beach vacation) and burned my eyeballs with the horror of it all. Frances totally adds pizazz to Hilary’s life and keeps her from falling too far down the rabbit hole of self-absorbtion – everyone could use a friend like her. But a lot of laughter is from Hilary’s attempts and failures to navigate the swiftly shifting terms of her relationship with Tilly – it’s clear underneath she loves her, but Tilly is so out of control it seems impossible for Hillary to do anything to keep Tilly’s life from turning into a much bigger wreck than her own. And yet, in a realistic, sympathetic, and almost hopelessy comic way, Hillary keeps trying.

If there’s one lesson to take home from this play, it’s that life keeps on changing no matter how little you want it to, and the best thing you can do is keep on dancing and make an effort to spend time with the people you love (no matter how little they seem to love you, especially if they’re teenagers). It was realistic, and, to my relief, not in the least sentimental. Best of all, it had me crying with laughter, not just because of the situations but because the way the characters talked about what was going on was just so damned funny. Good on you, April De Angelis, for a great play firmly rooted in the here and now that set itself right up for best play and production of 2011. For some of us, who’ve found that life is maybe providing more changes and challenges than we can really handle, it’s the joy of a play like this, and the feeling it gives us that we’re really not alone, that gives us reason and enthusiasm to keep on moving forward past the gravy years and into the great unknown.

Review – Chicken Soup with Barley – Royal Court

June 7, 2011

For once, the Royal Court is doing, not a new show, but a revival, of Chicken Soup with Barley. This play, first performed in 1958, is about an East London Jewish family riding the wave from optimistic socialism to Pollyanna-ism. And based on the fact that this show has been revived and thus not to be given the slack I accord to new works, I ask, what was the point of this ill-natured, tedious show? There is actually some interest for me in watching people discuss socialism with stars in their eyes over a meal; but as this family and their friends goes from one rally to another, from proselytizing on a chair to motivating union members, I found myself wishing I could have left their party and gone to one where a conversation I was interested was happening. Maybe it was my fourth row seat; I really did feel like I was there, and I wanted to get away but was trapped by the feeling that something really interesting might happen that I’d miss if I snuck out early. More fool me.

To make it more miserable, this family really seemed to hate each other. Sarah Kahn (Samantha Spiro) spends most of the play tearing apart her good-for-nothing husband Harry (Danny Webb), and I found it painful to watch. It’s a profound lesson for her to teach her kids, Ada (Jenna Augen) and Ronnie (Tom Rosenthal), and later they jump right on the “dad is a waste of breathing room” bandwagon, telling him what he can and cannot do as if he is a child and deriding him as useless right at the dinner table. No wonder he just wants to sit alone and smoke a cigarette. I’ll give props to Spiro for her performance; she seemed very believable in her enthusiasm and unwillingness to confront harsh facts. However, Rosenthal flubbed his final scene, seemingly not able to handle the emotional transition (maybe this will clear up as the run progresses), while Augen didn’t seem very well rounded and was just silly in her first scene. Webb, however, was just astounding in a “performance of the year” kind of way as the gradually degrading Harry Kahn; but watching him erode in front of my eyes was a truly painful experience. I could not wait to see the last of the lot of them.

At the end of the evening, when I was praying for each scene to be the last, I was reminded of that Tolstoy chestnut about happy families. Sure, it’s the unhappy ones that are more interesting, but this particular brand of misery was just not my cup of tea (or bowl of soup). Give me Imelda Staunton and her accordion any day of the week; Chicken Soup with Barley is just to bitter to be enjoyable.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 6th, 2011. It continues through July 9th.)

Review – Remembrance Day – Royal Court

April 7, 2011

The Royal Court stands top in my rankings of London theaters, as the place where one can just go ahead and buy a ticket to whatever show they’re doing and not really worry too much about whether or not one is going to have a good night at the theater. Of course, I’m prejudiced a bit by my love of new plays; but Royal Court shines because they have, in addition to a commitment to new works, a really good vetting process; so while the National produces lots of new shows, their success ratio is low (and they offend me by their heavy hand with their production values); and the Donmar goes for excellence but has lost most of its experimentalism. So when I saw that a show was coming up for which I had room in the schedule (and room in the budget), I went ahead and bought tickets for
Remembrance Day without more than glancing at the synopsis.

It’s a new play, though, so I’ll assume you may want to know a bit about it: like many of my favorite plays, it’s a family drama, about a conflict across generations (in this case between a father, Sasha – Michael Nardone – and his daughter, Anya – Ruby Bentall). The conflict is set in a highly political and very specific context – that of the Russians (this family) still living in modern Latvia – but the seems in no way bound much by time or place a la The Crucible and The Rhinoceros. Fascism, nationalism, political extremism and manipulation, families being fractured as the members become partisans … these topics are sadly universal and make the play greatly enjoyable even if you’re completely ignorant about Latvia.

In this storm of emotion and rhetoric we have some richly drawn characters that speak well to Aleksey Scherbak’s authorial skills, with the kind of details that take what could have been cartoons and make them into believable people. Old soldier Paulis (Sam Kelly) has a bad temper but a strong affection for sausage; his fellow fighter Valdis (Ewan Hooper) can look on both his service to three different armies and his wrongful stint in the gulag (seven years!) with the distance age brings. Sasha starts out being gruff but reveals much stronger depths than needed; even his son “gimme some money” Lyosha (Iwan Rheon) has got is game going on. Glowering over all of them is the intensely burning brand that is Anya, who starts sweet and doe-eyed, hanging out with the adorable leader of the youth wing of the Russian political party, then slowly … well, changes. It’s the kind of evolution you can see many people making around the world while the cameras aren’t, completely believable, and … well, there was no hiding from the fact that this play wasn’t just specific to the problem that one small country is having right now.

The directing and acting are quite good. Bentall is occasionally just a little bit too fanatical for me, especially when she’s just staring at someone and not talking … it interrupted her believability. The political hacks (Luke Norris and Nick Court) spew out butter and bile with equal enthusiasm; I feel they weren’t meant to be entirely believable, more representatives of a certain mindset. Meanwhile, the old men made glaring the hamfisted acting of When We Are Married, showing what fine old actors can really do on stage: sparking as opposites on the ideological spectrum but also making it clear what held them together as friends. And Nardone eventually outshines the daughter as he believably struggles with extreme changes within his family, giving a performance that made me forget I was watching someone act. Meanwhile, director Michael Longhurst, if I’m reading the script correctly, has made a powerful point by interleaving Valdis’ and Sasha’s family’s apartments. They may be separate on paper, but in reality, these people who are spending so much time defining how different they are from each other have become completely intertwined in each other’s lives, and separating them seems no more possibly than removing one half of a human heart without killing the patient.

All of this intense emotion took place in about eighty-five minutes and has left me thinking about what happened for the past few days. The plot details may be irrelevant (and I’m not wanting to tell too much about it), but there is no doubt that as a portrait of how people move toward political extremism, this play is very powerful, and I suspect will be getting produced regularly after its debut wraps.

(This review is for a production that took place on Tuesday, April 5th, 2011. It continues through April 16th.)

Review – Get Santa! – Royal Court

January 5, 2011

A new year, a new resolution to focus my reviewing on the most relevant shows, and yet here it is January and I’m reviewing a show that is basically way past its sell date. I actually had no intention of seeing Get Santa whatsoever, as it sounded like some cutesy crap I wanted to steer well away from, especially with an adult (Imogen Doel) playing a ten year old lead Holly. And, come on, Christmas is over. I don’t need my heart warmed. I need bitter. I need cold. I need withered branches far from the promise of spring.

And yet, I also need cheap, and an offer came out through the Royal Court’s Twitter account (“£5 SPECIAL OFFER 6 Jan 5pm 7 Jan 7pm, code HOLLY5 “), and that wouldn’t be enough as I won’t waste my time with bad theater … but the word on the street was … well, certainly positive enough to warrant £5. And I had nothing planned for the first week in January. And … £5.

I’m pleased to report that not only did I get my £5 worth, I’m able to say that Get Santa actually rates as the best original, non-Panto, non-Nutcracker holiday theatrical entertainment I’ve seen as years, as radically original as expectation-overturning as Elf was as a holiday movie. It also satisfied my desire for some cleansing bitter flavors in my diet, as rather than being adorable and sugary, it rather blatantly looked into the many ways Christmas really never lives up to our expectations and is frequently a source of disappointments. Holly isn’t a cute little kiddie who needs a big hug: she’s an angry little girl, a force of chaos like an Eloise, living in a world with rules of reality that run somewhere between Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss. And I have no idea how she pulled it off, but Doel actually got the energy, sulkiness, and raw intelligence of a ten year old wrapped up in a way that, as an audience member, while I was aware that at times she was mugging and being excessively silly, I was still able to buy into the age of the character she was portraying, and thus settle down into enjoying the play.

To be honest, you’re going to need a strong ability to suspend disbelief in order to be able to buy this play, as the characters are not just Holly and Santa Claus (David Sterne, deliciously burnt out), but a dog (Robert Stocks) and a talking teddy bear (this is an actual teddy bear and not a human being in a bear suit). But somehow the entire ball of weirdness, from the frightening pink wallpaper to the chic drunk grandma (Amanda Hadingue) and Santa Claus and an adult playing a ten year old and “magic” all comes together and makes sense, so much that when Santa gets into an argument with the teddy bear about whether or not gypsies can cast curses, it actually all works within the logic of the play (and of course there are forest penguins, who could possibly doubt a stuffed animal that only lives for the love of its little girl?).

I loved the warped reality rollercoaster ride that was Get Santa, and while I saw it too late for it to be one of the highlights of 2010, it was without a doubt the best Christmas play I saw this season and left a million lesser works gasping by the side of the road like a Wetherspoons roast dinner eating its heart out after a plate full of goose, stuffing, and gravy ran it over. I think it even knocked Albee’s Sylvia out of the water when it came to taking the absurd and making it work, all while keeping it just below the level that would have made it unsuitable for an eight year old (although if your kid talks during plays LEAVE THEM HOME PLEASE). And, come on, it had a bacon tree. How much better could Christmas get?

(This review is for the 7 PM performance that took place on Tuesday, January 4th, 2011. Get Santa continues through January 15th at the Royal Court.)

Review – Clybourne Park – Royal Court

September 1, 2010

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’m a sucker for a deal. And anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I’m an avid advocate of the service as well as a rabid user. So imagine my joy when I got a Tweet announcing a £5 special for bank holiday tickets to the Royal Court’s new production, Clybourne Park. I mean, I LOVE the Royal Court; they’re the place that puts on the cool new shows and has a deliciously affordable pricing regime, plus seats with Corinthian Leather upholstery. I didn’t even bother looking anything about the show; I just found the one date I could make it (provided my plane showed up on time) and booked a ticket, BANG.

Somehow I managed to remember I had a show the day I came back from vacation, and, to my good luck, the West End Whingers were going the same night. BAM! Clybourne Kismet! And I was in love with my 4th row seat, even though it was just little old me there by myself. All I knew about the show was that it was about racism and that it was set in Chicago, two scenes in the same house, years apart. But hey, bring it on!

SO … Clybourne Park is apparently meant to be a satire, though I found only the first act satirical. It seems to be two almost entirely different but parallel plays: the first one a harsh visit to a family dealing with the death of their son, the second a very true-to-life depiction of neighbourhood planning meetings, race, and gentrification. The plays are tied together by taking place in the same house and using the same characters (some of whom are related to the earlier characters); there is also a parallel plot line about having people of a different race move into a neighbourhood and how that makes the current inhabitants uncomfortable. The acting and direction was uniformly good; Stephan Rhodri was outstanding as Russ, act one’s dad; Sophie Thompson was freakish as Bev, the 50s housewife on the verge of a breakdown (I saw her performance as capturing most of the satire). And I love the subtle Prairie influence of the set in act one, nicely creating a Chicago feel in a play that could really have been set just as easily in Seattle or L.A.

Still, despite the general interest of how the race issue was dealt with in America in the 50s and in the now (and the horrible familiarity of the spat over urban planning issues in modern America), I felt this play let me down. On a lesser point, I felt it generally wasted the two African American characters; they spend most of act one huddled in a corner, then are only allowed to say a very little more in act two. Really, if the play is going to deal with race, maybe it should let the non-white characters get a little more speaking time?

Secondly, as a theatre goer I was frustrated by the MacGuffin of the giant army chest. To me, it symbolized everything the playwright did NOT deal with in act two. I was completely caught up in this family’s grief and desperately wanted to see how they dealt with it after intermission wrapped up. Instead I got a seeming therapy session, in which people talked about where they’d been on vacation and occasionally looked at a lengthy document and made a few pronouncements on it. Was I really emotionally vested in whether or not the white family got a big house in the gentrifying neighborhood, or to what extent the black and white people succeeded in needling each other about race? To me it came off as a very temporal concern, very much lacking in the universality of act one. And while I can say, due to the fine creation of character, that Clybourne Park is a good and watchable piece of theater, unfortunately I feel like it just isn’t deep enough. It was sad to watch a play on the verge of greatness fail to achieve it; maybe next time Bruce Norris will knock the ball out of the park, but Clybourne Park is at best a double.

(This review is for a play that took place on Tuesday, August 31st, 2010. Clybourne Park continues at the Royal Court until October 2nd, 2010. For another view, please see the West End Whingers review.)

Review – Ingredient X – Royal Court

May 21, 2010

Last night was the opening night of the new show at the Royal Court, Ingredient X. The play was billed thus:

“I’ve always said I’ll stop just as soon as The X Factor stops. The X Factor stops I stop that’s the deal.”

It’s Saturday night and the judges are gathering for their prime-time slot, feeding the nation their weekly fix. Except the harshest critics are sitting on your sofa and the mute button doesn’t seem to work. A tough new comedy about addiction.


Okay, I admit, I must not have been paying attention. See, what I thought this play was about was TV addiction, a topic I’ve been fascinated by for years, ever since I walked away from the boob tube in my teens. Picture me, in my college years, with my “Just Say No … to Television” shirt, and then the me of today, living in a TV free household (no matter how little the licensing authorities want to believe it). Yet I am surrounded by a society that oozes television out of every pore. This is especially frustrating to me as a theater goer, because all of the time I hear about some “new talent” who’s actually a TV “star,” which to me is about as meaningful as hearing that they won the blue ribbon for watermelon pickles at the Johnson County Fair. People are obsessed with television, they organize their life around television, they think the people on it are somehow important and that what happens on a TV series matter.

I find this madness comes to a height with the so-called talent reality shows. After reading Ben Elton’s “Chart Throb,” I now believe they only exist to wind people up enough to actually want to make a paid phone call to influence the outcome of the serie, thus leading to buckets of cash being delivered to the series’ producers. Does Britain Got Talent? Sure, but what the TV shows have is grabby hands going for people’s opened wallets. How can the TV viewing public not see how horribly they’re being scammed? And they keep going back for more, year after year! This, I thought, was the addiction Ingredient X was going to tackle head-on – the numbing deadness caused by excessive viewing of reality television.

If it’s not already clear, I was totally wrong. This show is about bog-standard substance type addiction, cocaine, booze, what have you. It’s set in what felt like (but was too fancy to be) a council flat somewhere north of London, where Frank (James Lance) and Katie (Indira Varma, too beautiful for the role) are hosting an X-Factor party for Katie’s friends Rosanna (Lesley Sharp) and Deanne (Lisa Palfrey). All of them seem fairly poor, with at least two kids each, and a lifetime of bad relations with men behind (or in front of) them.

Rosanna, harsh and angry throughout most of the play, is the most lively of the characters, but after about twenty minutes, listening to her hassle everyone and be cruel lost its charm. Deanne comes off as ditzy, but almost entirely forgettable except for her one big speech about alcoholism. I felt like I was trapped at a party with people I really wanted to get away from, and was unable to engage my “suspension of disbelief” enough to actually imagine why Katie let these cretins in her house to abuse her and badmouth her boyfriend. I was briefly excited at the beginning of act two when Frank looked like he was going to take Rosanna off and actually kick her out of the flat; but no. We were stuck with all four of them for another full hour.

Despite the realistic nature of the dialogue of this play, I found it pointless (perhaps preaching was its point, but that’s not why I go to the theater), lacking in dramatic tension while full of unpleasantness. It seemed to be a set-up for each of the characters to monologue about their own addiction issues, but not in a way I found particularly compelling. In fact, when Frank was talking about “walking down that path with my dad,” I completely checked out and had a “I am watching actors reading lines” moment. It’s a bad sign. It wasn’t quite bad enough to walk out on, but it was absolutely and positively not worth watching, unless you enjoy watching small people make each other look smaller, only not in a particularly witty or interesting way. Or perhaps you want to take someone to a show to help them understand just what it is that makes an alcoholic and what a much better person they’d be if they went to meetings.

I expect this show will reappear in cut up form as character studies for actors, and might be performed for groups who want to present plays about addiction, but as a play for a person who wants an evening to enjoy art, it’s eminently missable. Ah well, Royal Court, we shall meet again, because I do really support the creation of new play, and I’m sure we’ll return to the “win some” side of the balance sheet soon enough.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 20th, 2010. Ingredient X continues through June 19th at the Royal Court, though if I were you I’d try to get tickets for Sucker Punch instead.)

2010 Olivier Awards – did they deserve it?

March 22, 2010

Reviewing the final list of winners for the 2010 Olivier awards, I had to ask myself: did they deserve it? Aside from Spring Awakening, I did manage to see pretty much every show that got a nod (well, a major nod – Hello Dolly also slipped through my fingers due to being staged outdoors). So, first, a look at the shows that won minor awards (each linked to my original review).

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT – THE MUSICAL: Best Costume Design I have continued to be mystified by the popularity of this thin on the ground musical. But one thing I wouldn’t deny: it’s got great costumes. In fact, that was about the only think I really liked about the show.

The Brandstrup-Rojo project’s GOLDBERG: Best New Dance Production I disagree with this. The production was nice but the output sterile. I’m sure there was something better out there that was overlooked. Did Birmingham Royal Ballet’s E=MC2 just not count? They did it in London, too …

Royal Court for COCK at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs: Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre Well, this show was my pick for best of the year, so I’d say: yeah, damned right it was an outstanding achievement. Or perhaps “upstanding” would be more appropriate.

So – this leaves the shows that were up for the major awards. Only one thing surprised me: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF: Best Revival I thought this cat was a dog. Did the performances improve tremendously after the time I saw it? I sure hope so.

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that JERUSALEM deserved its best actor award for Mark Rylance (though I don’t think it really hit Best Set Design – was the competition slim, or did the live chicken make the difference?). I, however, just never really “got” this play, much as I wasn’t able to quite buy Rachel Weisz (Best Actress, A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse) as Blanche DuBois. Not that she was bad, mind you, but Ruth Wilson (Best Actress in a Supporting Role, same show) inhabited her role with seamless perfection.

So we’re left with the top new play of the year. I actively go see new plays, so this is a category that matters to me. And Enron (Best Director: Rupert Goold), well, it had good direction, but it wasn’t a story for all time. And … I hate to say it … but … Jerusalem … it may be where England is here and now, but it didn’t move me. Me? I’ve been to THE MOUNTAINTOP (Best New Play), and I saw the promised land, a land where artists lose themselves completely in their roles, where I learn more about the world, where I walk out with my skin shivering with excitement. Hats off to you, Katori Hall, for making theatrical magic happen: you really deserved it.

Review – Disconnect – Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Upstairs)

February 18, 2010

Tonight J and I went to the Royal Court to see “Disconnect,” Anupama Chandrasekhar’s new play about the lives of Indian call center workers. It was performed in the far, far upper reaches of the theater, the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, which was new to me. Normally horrifying general, unmarked seating was thoroughly compensated for due to good legroom and “Corinthian Leather” bench seats that were actually comfy, and no crazed, EastJet-like scrum for a place.

The show is fully focused on an Indian debt-collection agency, the sort that has its staff use American names and (not sure if this happens, but it did in the show) assume American identities that help them better “empathize” with their marks. We start out the show focused on low-level manager Avinash (Paul Bhattacharjee), a middle aged, long term employee who’s being given his review by Jyothi (Hasina Haque, struggling with the accent). See, Avinash isn’t young and hip enough for this company, which wants its employees to be happy – and double their targets for the month, so he’s got a choice – leave, or take over the lowest performing team in the company.

Quickly the action moves to Avinash’s new territory, the “Illinois” team, who work in a windowless, fourth-floor office. We meet outgoing Ross (Nikesh Patel), efficient but flirty Vidya (Ayesha Dharker), and new kid on the block Giri (Neet Mohan). After expecting a horrifying pack of near-robots, the debt collectors turn out to be amazingly personable, teasing and cajoling their customers into giving them some of their near-nonexistent cash. It’s a hard market: America is, after all, in a recession, and the kids hear all of the horror stories out there. Their camaraderie and repartee is broken by the arrival of Avinash, who tells them it’s time to stick by the script.

At this point I thought the story was going to become about how the three young folks ganged up against the rigid old man, possibly leading to his conversion to a less uptight version of his earlier self, but instead, it mostly continued to focus on the team, their interactions with each other and the rather comic way they handled their calls. A relationship has been developing with Ross and Vidya – at one point (as they continue haranguing their marks for money), he takes her on an imaginary trip to the observation point on the Sears tower – but he starts becoming more distant from her and even (in a shocking bit of dialogue) mocks her for her dark skin. Each of the three gets caught up in their own dramas: Vidya and Ross over the phone, Giri with his own lust for consumer products.

The big conflict turns out to be Ross against Avinash, but for reasons I never guessed and with an outcome that was pretty hair raising – one of those really intense moments of theater when you have no idea what is going to happen next, but have become so caught up in the characters that it really matters to you. I’ll skip comment, though, so as not to ruin the surprise.

Overall, I thought this play still needed a bit of massaging. There was too much fussiness with changing the seats around from one position to another for the many scenes (nearly all of them) that took place in the Illinois room, and at one point I felt like there were too many scenes period, that they were just filling time rather than moving the story along. I enjoyed the depiction of what life might be like on the other side of the phone lines – and the play neatly caught many elements of modern Indian culture – and expect it will improve as the cast settles in, but, still, it’s a slight work – not that I didn’t feel like I got my fifteen quid out of it. And I liked seeing a play that really captured an element of modern society. So: enjoyable, but not life changing, and worth the cost of the tickets.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010. Disconnect continues through March 20th, 2010.)