A Matter of Life and Debt

Sun 23rd – Thu 27th August 2015

reviews

Becky Wilson

at 10:45 on 25th Aug 2015

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In A Matter Of Life And Debt, Relish Theatre Company portray a defiant woman’s struggle against a large corporate insurance company. On paper, this sounds like a rather dull premise for a Fringe play. But as soon as you enter the theatre and are confronted with a tableau of grimacing, green-wigged characters, it becomes clear that this absurdist comedy has far much more to offer than you’d expect.

The play’s creators have truly devoured the corporate world, chewed it up and spat it back out again. In this mangled, distorted universe, Victoria (Nina Cavaliero) has to jump through a series of loopholes at the insurance company in order to claim back the life insurance she is owed.

Stylistically, the production is evocative of a video game. The heroine fights her way through many nightmarish obstacles: one on each floor of the corporate tower. The delusional Bellboy (Ollie Partington) gradually takes her upward in his lift, until, at the play’s climax, Victoria reaches the top floor to face the dreaded boss, Heda (Phao May Wheatley).

Jonathan Cobb stands out immediately as Carl, a frenzied employee who leaps across the stage and oozes the charisma of a cheesy gameshow host. Cobb’s performance here is extremely superficial, which works perfectly. Unfortunately Cavaliero’s own one-dimensional performance as Victoria is less positive. While convincing in her passionate and faltering protests as the underdog, a certain stiffness in Cavaliero’s acting and shortfalls in the script means the main character often disappears behind her more extravagant counterparts.

Smooth scene changes and a resourceful use of the set make A Matter Of Life And Debt technically slick. The staging in this production is always innovative and sometimes utterly masterful. The play’s best scene shows Victoria quite literally tango her way through a maze of security questions, which are hurled at her by three dexterous, dancing employees. I cannot tear my eyes away, unwilling to miss even a second of this elaborately choreographed and perfectly polished routine.

A Matter Of Life And Debt intelligently satirises the dark side of business. This is a world in which the boss literally uses an employee for a rug, and corporate jargon is exposed as terrifying nonsensical gabble. Most impressively, it manages to do this without compromising on entertainment value. For this reason, it is one of the most watchable absurdist plays I’ve ever seen.

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Stasia Carver

at 10:50 on 25th Aug 2015

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Victoria’s business has burned down, and she wants her insurance pay-out. Unfortunately, thanks to an administration error, Life Love Life Insurance’s records have Victoria listed as deceased. A Matter of Life and Debt charts her tempestuous journey through a bureaucratic labyrinth as she fights to win what she’s owed without compromising her values. Freshly conceived and imaginatively staged, this should appeal to anyone who’s been on either end of a harrowing customer service experience.

Writer Samuel Marsters knows his Greek mythology: subverting the classic hero’s descent to the underworld, Victoria (Nina Cavaliero) works her way up through the seemingly infinite floors of the insurance company’s skyscraper, encountering the various pawns in the corporate machine as she goes.

Jonathan Cobb stops just short of the farcical in his portrayal of Carl, a Life Love Life disciple whose greatest pleasure lies in polishing his employee-of-the-month plaques; his flamboyant hysteria is counter-balanced by the dry wit of the building’s bellboy (Ollie Partington), who turns out to be harbouring literary ambitions.

Nine of the remaining ten roles are filled by just three actors, and it’s this trio (Jake Drake, Jake Philips-Head and Jack Sears) who make the show, their comic flair shining through even when their characters are peripheral. Their simulation of a customer service call is perhaps the highlight of the entire play, witty and superbly choreographed. Hercules’ twelfth labour was nothing, we realise, compared to the trauma of being put on hold.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get behind the lead, and this is where the show falls down. Cavaliero’s Victoria swings rather dully between gratingly earnest and unconvincingly heated, her passionate tirades against Britain’s corporate climate chiming awkwardly with Marsters’ otherwise light-hearted approach and subtle touch. There was a disappointing lack of chemistry with any of the other actors; towards the end of the play, moments striving hard to be poignant tended instead to feel rather sickly and forced.

A storyline such as this one needs the audience to be invested in the heroine’s success for the play to have real drive. Nevertheless, fresh and funny, and showcasing some real comic talent, A Matter of Life and Debt is an enjoyable way to spend your lunch hour.

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