Sunday, 7 May 2017
Review The Pulverised
by Alexandra Badea
Translated by Lucy Phelps
The Opposite Of Babel
In the Bible, Babel is the site where all speak a common global language but the universal language is destroyed by the builders of the Tower Of Babel. Now it seems that it's financial jargon and the global corporate chase for the bottom line to maintain solvency at any cost which has become the global language.
The memory of the Icelandic financial crisis when the country's major banks collapsed came to mind when Reykjavik was mentioned late in the one act economic drama The Pulverised, translated from the French. For the set is dominated by what could be the ashes of a fire or maybe s solidified volcanic lava flow.
Writer Alexandra Badea is Romanian-born but lives in Paris. The Pulverised therefore looks at a world of outsourcing from a Franco-Romanian perspective.
A call centre worker (Solomon Israel) is in the former French colony of Senegal where employees work, like call centres all over the world, to standard scripts. A young country girl ((Rebecca Boey) is an electronics' assembly worker in the Chinese city of Shanghai, a part of which France once controlled.
Globe-trotting quality assurance executive (Richard Corgan) is based in Lyon with his family, capital of the recently-formed French administrative region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. However he is more often found in a hotel room and branch offices around the world as he carries out his job.
Meanwhile in Bucharest, another centre for French outsourcing, a new mum (Kate Miles), a research and development engineer, perfects her language skills for the unnamed French multinational and a chance of the one new job while the company cuts the old ones.
The drama emphasizes the repetitive, dislocated, unnatural rhythm of work from the factory floor to the executive level with the underlying crudeness, savagery and humiliation which a screen-based relationship with the world brings.
Paid-for live porn on screen is customized and broadcast in time-efficient slots. The lower rungs of the manufacturing hierarchy allow for abuse. Even religion has learnt to package itself for the MP3 age with advertisments on African buses. The African call centre clerks must adopt typically French names to answer customer calls.
The Pulverised is divided into a series of monologues. The production, directed by Andy Sava and designed by Nicolai Hart-Hansen, flashes projections in between (audio visual and sound designer Ashley Ogden), has the four-strong cast doing automaton or zombie like moves (movement director Lanre Malaolu), as well having an electronic music soundscape.
Unfortunately, despite good performances, The Pulverised suffers from a lack of context.
This is not to downplay the issues involved and the strongest and most disturbing moment for us was a viaual one (beautifully played by Solomon Israel) when it dawns on a a call centre worker that promotion is coming to him as a result of an avoidable tragedy involving, at best, covered-up criminal negligence by his company.
However The Pulverized also seems to be either strangely worded or in a strange translation. We're told that the Shanghai worker is manufacturing "boxes". Yet at another point in the play electronic circuits are mentioned.
In fact we think this play may need amplifying in English for a UK audience. Otherwise it feels like we've seen it all before - whether in the Hollywood version like Up In The Air, the plays, for example, of Anders Lustgarten or the "selling" of a pen in the Wolf Of Wall Street.
Ironically in a week when the French and English languages have become a hot issue, our hunch is The Pulverized may have lost something in translation elminating a dramatic discussion of what the French language means in the modern world and becoming a more standard script.
While Shanghai has an obvious meaning for us all, we felt the names of Dakar and Bucharest simply do not have the same resonance and history for an UK as for a Francophone audience.
So the moment when suddenly we're dragged from the countries which remain in France's orbit to Reykjavik where there can be a glimmer of recognition simply does not have the impact it should have had and we award an amber light.