Review: Contractions, Theatre Delicatessen

“How was your day at the office?”

Mike Bartlett’s play Contractions is presented here by Fly Theatre in a new production which takes place in a real office at Theatre Delicatessen, currently housed in a venue tucked away just off Oxford Street . The show is made up of a series of meetings between employee Emma and her line manager starting off an appraisal process but swiftly becoming something darker as this is a company that takes a very keen interest in the personal lives of its workforce and will go to seemingly any length to ensure productivity isn’t affected. As it turns out, the period it covers is quite substantial as we follow the burgeoning relationship between Emma and a male colleague Darren as it develops into something more despite company policy.

It is all about the ownership of employees in a tough corporate world, the level of intrusion into their private lives that is acceptable and how far people are willing to go for job security, money or indeed love, and it is captured brilliantly in the interplay between the two characters. Bartlett has such an amazing ear for the verbal games that people play, for the brutal power that words can have when applied with the surgical precision that they are here in this world of corporate legalese and double-speak, and indeed the way in which one's own words can be used against oneself, which is by turns comic and horrific, yet always utterly believable.

Holly Beth Morgan did a marvellous job at tracing the journey of Emma, from her initial bemusement at the intrusive questioning, learning how to play her manager at the same game and running through the extreme emotions provoked by the events in her life, culminating in its heartbreaking dénouement. But it is Abigail Rokison who really shines with all the best lines in the show, but crucially executed with perfect timing: she really knows how to use silences and emphases to get the most out of the material. I loved the tiny flickers of uncertainty that crossed her face once Emma had learned how to be a bit canny thus causing moments of self-doubt in her mastery of the contracts and the situation, but it was her displays of faux emotion that provided the best moments of the show with the most hysterically funny use of a post-it note since Bubble was let loose in the stationary cupboard in Absolutely Fabulous, which is then pushed even further in a second twist with a brilliantly mordant humour.

Seats are quite limited as the office is quite cosy and it is a limited run so get booking, and I love the fact that I caught a matinée as there was something alarmingly realistic about seeing the events play out in the daytime when the exact same thing could be happening for real in any of the neighbouring buildings. So a nicely quirky production of an interesting play and a great opportunity to see more of this playwright’s work: I am fast becoming a Bartlett groupie!

Running time: 55 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: free, and really quite ingeniously designed
Booking until 30th October
Note: I’d recommend sitting on the left hand side (as you’re looking at the desk) in order to get the full benefit of the post-it hilarity.

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