Friday, 8 February 2019

Theatre review: Wild East

The Young Vic's Clare Studio continues to be the home for the Genesis Future Director Award Winners, and 2019's first production sees Lekan Lawal take on April De Angelis' absurdist take on the job interview from Hell format, 2005's Wild East. Frank (Zach Wyatt) is a socially inept anthropology graduate applying for a job at a company that collates and analyses data from people in emerging markets, for use in product marketing. It seems an unlikely match for him but it would involve spending a lot of time in Russia, a country he's always felt a strong connection to, and where a girl he likes lives. So he's keen to impress his interviewers, but even if his lack of social skills didn't trip him up, the fact that Dr Pitt (Lucy Briers) and Dr Gray (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) start imploding in front of him will.

Dr Gray is the more composed of the two on the surface, Dr Pitt having only just returned to work after an accident that left her with physical and mental scarring.

She blames her PTSD for the rampant paranoia she experiences right from the off, taking a very aggressive tone with the interviewee as she's become convinced the company is hiring younger, cheaper staff so they can get rid of people like her. The interview is being filmed, with the final decision on Frank's hiring being down to some unseen bosses, so Pitt's belief that she and Gray are being judged every bit as much as Frank is might not be as far off the mark as it first seems.

De Angelis' play is entertainingly surreal, though its satire of big business is a bit scattergun in its targets; ultimately its anger is aimed at corporations' use and abuse of both people and the environment in the pursuit of money. But along the way it often feels more like a satire of office politics: The women turn out to have had a romantic relationship that was short-lived and ended acrimoniously, and their personal history increasingly colours the way they conduct the out-of-control interview. So do their suspicions and concerns about whether the company is planning to downsize, and always aware of their audience they try to outplay each other and show the bosses what they think they want to see.

Lawal plays up the surrealism of the piece by heightening its artificiality, often having the cast wander around the audience - who they sometimes seem aware of, others not - and using microphones for some of their speeches. Like many designers faced with the tight Genesis budget Sarah Beaton embraces the Clare's rough-and-ready MDF surroundings and expands them into the show's look, with furniture, props and even parts of costumes made of matching wooden blocks, which are gradually replaced by the real thing as the play goes on. Wild East's frenetic diversions don't really make for a coherent whole, but they make for a wild ride. Not that any of the above matters of course, as Beaton's design incorporates the audience seating into the set, with no back rests, so this is "the play that left me with backache for the rest of the weekend."

Wild East by April De Angelis is booking until the 16th of February at the Young Vic's Clare.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Gabriel Mokake.

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