Pulsating new drama The Pulverised is the latest offering downstairs in Studio 2 at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre – fittingly, for a production that tells a story of a multinational company, it has had support from Arts Council England, the Institut Français and the Romanian Cultural Institute. Its writer, Alexandra Badea, is also Romanian-born but now living in France, where the original French version of The Pulverised premièred (at the National Theatre of Strasbourg).
Told from the perspectives of four employees of the same company, its protagonists are from France, China, Romania and Senegal – and all have different roles that feed into the same company. On top of having that in common, they are all fighting dissatisfaction in both work and life, with little success. The themes of the workplace dehumanising people, making them all uniform, and working until the point of exhaustion will ring true for many in the audience; at what cost progress?
Each person’s story is told separately, mostly in monologue fashion though occasionally another cast member steps in to allow conversations to be played out. This is an extremely engaging approach to storytelling, as it’s clear and not over-complicated – and even if you weren’t aware at the beginning, the storylines converge to explain that all of these people work for the same company.
Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s design has the thrust stage covered with a kind of slag heap in front of a brick wall, smashed computers all around, and motherboards suspended from the ceiling. The actors lie amongst this debris, suggesting that this is the state industry has left the workers in: surrounded by waste and too exhausted to do anything about it. Projected onto the back wall are all sorts of moving and still images, and there are often interjections of industrial, electronic music. Ashley Ogden’s sound and AV design goes hand in hand with both the set and the subject matter, uniting sound and vision within the piece. Lanre Malaolu’s movement direction also comes into play here; for one thing, as each character starts and finishes their scene they jerkily (but purposefully) almost power up and down.
All four members of the cast give hugely powerful and affecting performances. From Rebecca Boey’s Shanghai factory worker constantly confronted with her colleagues’ suicides, and Solomon Israel’s Dakar call centre team leader made complicit with management to cover up a tragic evening of unofficial overtime, to Kate Miles’ Bucharest research and development engineer on the cusp of a nervous breakdown, and Richard Corgan’s Lyon quality assurance of subcontractors manager with crazy travel itineraries away from his family, which leave him feeling isolated.
The play as a whole should set alarm bells ringing for audience members stuck in the rat race – as welcome as the global digital revolution has been, are we fully aware of its ramifications?
My verdict? A hard-hitting 90 minutes of theatre that should resonate with all who watch it – brought to life by a highly talented cast.
The Pulverised runs at the Arcola Theatre until 27 May 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.