Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Theatre review: Saxon Court

If December's on the horizon then it's a good bet there'll be a play about an office Christmas party. It's a very specific Christmas in Daniel Andersen's debut Saxon Court, that of 2011, and the office is near St Paul's Cathedral. So as well as the ongoing effects of the financial crisis, the recruiters at Saxon Court also have to deal with the Occupy protesters on their doorstep. Donna Saxon's (Debra Baker) company recruits for the financial sector, and though they have plenty of clients on their books it's been a while since they found a job for any of them, and Donna's facing the probability that her company may go under. She knows she needs to fire someone if they're to stand any chance of staying in business, but with the staff from the Dartford branch due to arrive for the party later in the day, she tries to bury this harsh reality, and demands her staff have an aggressively good time.

With receptionist Tash (Alice Franklin) having recently taken a lot of time off sick thanks to a botched boob job, and newbies Noel (Scott Hazell) and Mervyn (Adam Brown) not showing much flair for the job, Donna starts to treat the party games as a contest, the loser of which gets sacked.

Saxon Court has an interesting premise but its execution leaves a lot to be desired. The component parts should work - there's some interesting points to be made about the effects of the financial crash on smaller businesses, with Donna becoming outright destructive towards her employees, who'll go to extremes to keep their jobs - like Mervyn scrubbing the toilets when Donna sacks the cleaner, or Nat (Sophie Ellerby) going above and beyond the call of duty with the firm's biggest client. It also touches on the fact that outside life doesn't stop providing its own problems while work's in a crisis.

But the play feels undecided about what it wants to be, and Melanie Spencer's production doesn't help it form an identity: The first act feels like a desperately unfunny sitcom, built around a bad smell coming from the toilet and the sexist jokes by Joey (John Pickard,) who's allowed to get away with unprofessional behaviour because he's the only employee making the company any money. But while I've heard many horror stories about behaviour in the financial sector so perhaps the bullying atmosphere is accurate, I've worked in a lot of offices and little about the office politics here rings true.

And why did Donna hire Noel just 3 weeks ago? 
She must have known by then she wouldn't have enough work for him.

The second half which goes for more straightforward drama is better, but it still suffers from Donna being essentially a bigoted, right-wing monster who seems to take some satisfaction from torturing her staff. An attempt to humanise her as she worries about her business partner's health comes too late to make us care about her, so instead of a story about a woman being driven to extremes by the crash, it's one about a sadist throwing a strop. There are moments when Saxon Court shows what could have been quite an interesting play, but the way it's all put together doesn't really work.

Saxon Court by Daniel Andersen is booking until the 13th of December at Southwark Playhouse's Little Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.

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