by Lynn on July 9, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Bush Hall, London, Eng.

Written by Melissa Bubnic
Directed by Amy Hodge
Designed by Joanna Scotcher
Lighting by Lee Curran
Sound by Emma Laxton
Pianist: Jennifer Whyte
Cast: Kirsty Bushell
Ellora Torchia
Chipo Chung
Emily Barber
Helen Schlesinger

The premise is that to make it in the ruthless man’s world women have to be as ruthless as a man. Sigh. How simplistic.

The Story. Astrid Wentworth is a City trader in a stock broker firm. She is the only woman in that male world and she is ruthless in her job and in that man’s world. She says she is no friend of ‘the sisterhood. “I’m basically a man who sits to pee.” But then a young woman, Priya Sengupta, applies for a junior trading job in the firm and after an aggressive interview, Astrid is convinced to give Priya a chance. Astrid has warned her that women are treated like dirt in the firm but she does give Priya a chance.

The Production
. Because the Bush Theatre proper is being renovated, this production takes place in the interesting Bush Hall, just up the Uxbridge Road.

Designer, Joanna Scotcher has designed this as part cabaret with tables on the main floor. There is a pianist placed in the middle of the floor who offers incidental music as we file in, and plays while Astrid sings. There is a stage proper at one end of the space with three doors on the stage that represent bathrooms.The audience sits around three quarters of the space.

All the characters, including the men, are played by women. Scotcher dresses the men in slim fitting blue suits. The jacket is short and buttons to a synch at the waist. Some wear ties. Some don’t. The shoes are sturdy clunkers with a thick, highish heel. A woman would wear them but they wouldn’t be stylish. Astrid wears the same kind of suit only with red high heels. The suit on her does not look stylish but rather chintzy. Interesting. So she’s dressing like ‘the boys’ but with killer heels in a killer colour.

Astrid makes no bones about her being as ruthless as a man. She says she does not have any sad story of being diddled by her father or an uncle to justify her behavior. She just plays the man’s game as the men she works with. She tells us all this as she is holding a microphone, singing to us as if in a cabaret. I’m not sure I understand why.

Astrid is in the bar by herself and makes quite a moment of it. She self-deprecates that it’s pathetic. She comments that the young bartender gives her her drink and says it’s on the house, because she imagines he’s doing it out of mercy and also imagines he might want sex with her (mercy) later. This pisses her off. The same standard would not apply to a man alone in the bar.

Astrid meets a hooker in the bar named Isabelle (a smart, dangerous Chipo Chung). She’s smartly dressed and tough but not tough like a man. She and Astrid begin a relationship—I believe it involves payment. Isabelle is ‘working’.

When Astrid interviews Priya two toilets are rolled out from behind two of the doors on the stage. The women sit on the toilets (covers down) as if they are sitting on chairs. Priya wears a frowzy black suit (jacket and skirt). Later when she has the job, Astrid makes her buy the same kind of ‘power’ pant suit and heels that she (Astrid) is wearing. Priya does all the menial jobs that Astrid asks of her and proves herself.

Amy Hodge has directed this with energy, efficiency and swiftness. Part of the action takes place on a section above the stage, with some of the cast acting as singing chorus. In this world the men in power swagger, sit with their legs apart, grimace and pass judgement with a sneer. This includes Astrid, played with cold-eyed vigor by Kirsty Bushell. Her boss is Arthur Beale, a ruthless, calculating man played by a scary, ruthless, manipulative Helen Schlesinger. Priya is played by Ellora Torchia with edge but femininity. She has not given over to that macho world, even when she is raped and videoed during an evening of heavy drinking.

This is when that sordid world ramps up. Priya wants justice. Astrid abandons her. Arthur does damage control and maneuvering. Astrid says that even by signing an agreement to not bring charges as long as the people responsible are fired, and that means Astrid as well, Astrid says that Priya will never get ahead. They won’t give her leads. Really? And the fact that she is videoed being raped and it’s gone viral wouldn’t also suggest she is done in that world. But she does get revenge—she gets all the perpetrators fired, for the time being at least. Astrid threatens Arthur, but here too he out plays her.

And in a final moment Astrid does tell us that when she was a girl, she was sexually abused by an older man. Cop out in neon. Not a nice world, this.

Comment. Where to begin? Really? The only way for Astrid to get ahead is to play and act like a man? How boring. And pedestrian. Ok it’s a cruel world in which women are treated like crap, but we get this from Astrid who is not really a reliable source. There is no shred of womanliness but she is dispensed with as anyone who would get in Arthur’s way. In Arthur’s world there is only the deal. Anyone who is weak is dispensable. Astrid is formidable but she still a woman in those men’s eyes so her point of acting like a man, is moot. She’s good at her job. End of conversation.

And as I said above, having a sad story for Astrid is a cop out to explain her clear idea of how to get ahead. There is no comparable story for the men. Should there not be? Or do we assume that all men in that world of stock brokering are sharks out to kill everybody without there being a back story? That seems a bit simplistic too. Sigh.

Presented by the Bush Theatre and Headlong

First performance: June 25, 2016
I saw it: July 6, 2016.
Closes: July 30, 2016.
Cast: 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours approx.

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