Imagine a boss who ruthlessly pretends that he cares about you. Imagine a boss who manipulates everything you say, drawing you further in to the web he weaves on the company’s behalf. Imagine a process that leaves you both so emotionally and mentally drained, that you don’t know who or what to believe in the end. Mike Bartlett’s play, “Contractions”, is the 1984 of employee reviews.
Reality TV cannot match the theatre
In the play, 14 meetings between a manager and his employee take their toll on Emma, but her manager remains unaffected as the emotionless psychopath.
“We can work on realities which go deeper inside the human soul more in the theatre than on TV”, the director Mette Langfeldt Arnstad says.
Having seen it, you may recognise some of the manager’s characteristics from your own experiences from talking to your boss; you will certainly wish to discuss it afterwards. For if you thought he/she was a nightmare, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”.
“Although the story is fiction, it does take elements from real life and makes you think about your own situation afterwards”, she continues.
The increasing invasion by companies in to their employees’ privacy is a contentious issue. Employers in this country have recently been granted the power to monitor employees’ emails where they suspect that they either have been or are being disloyal to the company. But who watches the watchers, what is legitimate suspicion, and how does one define what disloyalty is? This is part of what Bartlett deals with in the course of the play. The irony is that
“both want the best for the company, but when one goes in the wrong direction, it’s not easy to see the barriers between work and private life”, says Arnstad.
The Stockholm syndrome
When under psychological duress, you lose sight of what is right or wrong, just or unjust, logical or illogical. The value-system that you have developed suddenly doesn’t apply any more.
“Employees, anxious to keep their jobs, become complicit. People…even start to monitor themselves”, Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian, after having seen the play at the Royal Court Theatre in London.
Trapped by a ruthless system, in the end Emma sees – or is given – no way out but compliance.
“Contractions” is both Rogaland Theatre’s and Arnstad’s first foray in to performing in English. Arnstad confesses that it has been easier for her to put on Norwegian translations of plays in English.
“With only six weeks of rehearsal, the degree of difficulty of putting this on stage has been high”, she says.
And Arne Nøst, the theatre’s new artistic director, lists an additional one.
“For actors, both language and the body are interlinked; something that is difficult for them to transfer in to English. Grasping the rhythm and underlying music of it is hard, so they pretend to be English, but within the Norwegian acting-style.”
However, as both actors have studied in an English-speaking environment, it has not all been an uphill struggle; on the contrary.
“It has been an advantage that they have received part of their education in English. Also, the assistant director has a Bachelor in languages, and one of the theatre’s dramatic advisors is American”, says Arnstad.
But why put a play in English on in a Norwegian theatre? Arne Nøst explains.
“It’s mainly because of the international working-environment we have here. Many use English as their language at work, but they don’t go to the theatre because, until now, the language-barrier has excluded them.”
Laudable, but why did he choose this particular play?
“I am reading many different plays, and I wanted to find one that had some reality in it that was short, partly comic, and serious at the same time”, he continues.
So is he planning on doing any more in the future?
“I hope to put one on each year, but we’ll have to see how this has gone first, and evaluate it after two months”, Nøst says.
The scenery is simple, and only two actors are required, something that makes the production extremely portable. You can have performances either at home or at work, for example. Nøst sees the last as an advantage.
“People who work in personnel departments have said that this play should be seen by their bosses. I see this opportunity as a nice way of using theatre to bring up discussions at work”, he concludes.
But who’s watching you?
“Contractions” is playing in Kjellerteateret (the Basement Theatre).
Running time: approximately 1 hour
Tickets can be reserved by:
Telephone: 51 91 90 90
Price: 240 kroner (full price)
Manager: Lars Funderud Johannessen
Emma: Ragnhild Arnestad Mønness
Director: Mette Langfeldt
Assistant Director: Garzia Dicanio
Dramatic Advisor: Michael Evans
©2009 Michael Sandelson/theforeigner.no All Rights Reserved
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