Contractions

Wed 31st July – Sat 10th August 2013

reviews

Megan Stodel

at 19:38 on 3rd Aug 2013

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‘Contractions’ shows us a terrifying world where work and personal life collide. It starts with The Manager (Imani Robinson) inviting Emma (Thea Hope) into her office and having a “chat” with her about any relationships, sexual or romantic, she might be having with her colleagues. This is all as per Emma’s contract, which stipulates she must keep the company informed of these things – for everybody’s own good, naturally. The play progresses through a number of short scenes, with The Manager pressing for ever more information and deciding on the best strategy to take, without Emma having much say at all about how her relationship with Darren develops.

Both actors, part of the Sussex University Drama Society, are excellent and work well together to keep the audience engaged. Robinson in particular is marvellous; she captures the upbeat reasonableness of a bureaucratic psychopath perfectly. Everything, from her timing to her facial expressions, gives us a real sense of her character and provokes laughter and discomfort, as appropriate. Hope also does a good job, reacting with the right levels of indignation at The Manager’s questions but managing to avoid overacted responses, which would have diminished the effect. This slipped in one of the more dramatic scenes, in which Hope became more of a caricature, just when Emma needed to seem most human in contrast to The Manager, but luckily she returned to a more natural portrayal later.

Much of the play was darkly funny. My favourite scene had The Manager quizzing Emma on her sex life with Darren and comparing their answers. However, I felt that the impact of the sharp critique of an invasive employer was diminished as the script slipped further into the macabre and ridiculous. In addition, many scenes were so short that the play had a choppy, unsettled feeling.

This was not helped by having blackouts between each scene, as the flow of the story was disrupted. Similarly, I could not fathom why so many scene changes were necessary. The play was set in the same office; why did we need to view it from different angles as time progressed? Sitting through a thirty second pause as a desk is rotated is frustrating when it seems so unnecessary.

‘Contractions’ is a competent production with two talented actors driving it. This play might be too short and the production too disjointed to display their talents to the fullest, but it still makes for an enjoyable and thought-provoking forty minutes.

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Ashley Chhibber

at 20:33 on 3rd Aug 2013

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What happens when your job security is so important that you will give up anything just to keep it? The concept of this play is clever: in a scarily realistic dystopia, Emma (Thea Hope) is driven by her contract and by her nameless, robotic and (above all) intrusive manager (Imani Robinson) to forego a love-life for the sake of her career. As the manager’s demands escalate, Emma’s pleas for a fair and rational outcome are met with strict, inhuman procedure. It’s enough to drive a girl mad.

Unfortunately, this clever concept does not seem to translate particularly well to the stage. The emphasis is clearly on the text over action, but even the small space available seemed not to be filled. Both actors showed great dexterity in terms of their voices and facial emotions – and, in the case of Hope, her appearance – but their body language failed to impress. This was not absolutely true of the entire play, and one of the funniest scenes involved Hope copying Robinson’s pose and style of speech; yet overall, their movements lacked the ease and fluency which is the truest marker of realistic acting.

One of the biggest risks with a two-hander such as this is that scenes will start to feel repetitive, as the two characters can only interact with each other. The format of this play exacerbates the effect: fourteen scenes, each an official meeting and started with much the same greeting- a constant social dynamic, that of manager and employee, which does not break the work environment. The only notable change between scenes, an occasional movement of the positioning of the desk and chairs, seemed gratuitous, adding nothing to the drama.

Some scenes and speeches are very humorous, particularly with Robinson’s dead-pan delivery; others, especially Hope’s outbreaks in the second half of the play, are highly emotional and very powerful. Yet in this respect, the two elements rarely mix well, and the production finds itself unable to maintain intensity in either sphere. This is clearly a production which needs more work; but it is the choice of script, rather than the cast, which perhaps is most to blame.

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