Tue 5th – Sat 9th June 2012


Alice Penfold

at 01:08 on 6th Jun 2012



'Contractions', written by Mike Bartlett and first performed in 2008, examines the uncertain boundaries between work and play; the opening, comic tone becomes something much more sinister by the end of the play’s fourteen short scenes. The size of the Burton Taylor Studio created an intimate environment for the performance, an intimacy which enhanced the intensity of the play’s action and dialogue.

Lucy Fyffe played the role of the Manager and she displayed fantastic power and control over her employee Emma (Charlotte Salkind). Fyffe’s comic timing in the earlier scenes was integral to the relationship between herself and Emma. Although Fyffe’s performance appeared less polished as the play continued, as she stuttered over some of her words and thus occasionally struggled to reflect effectively the ruthless power of the Manager, she nevertheless gave a stunning performance. Her lack of concern following the death of Emma’s baby captured the play’s exploration of unscrupulous corporations: Fyffe’s emotionless deliverance of “Are you alright, Emma?” after Emma’s emotional breakdown received many laughs from the audience but also parodied a cruel business environment in a way that became frighteningly close to reality.

Charlotte Salkind’s performance was equally captivating. Salkind conveyed Emma’s changing emotional state, from confusion and mild annoyance towards the Manager at the beginning of the play, to her tragic emotional outpouring in the final scenes, as work and pleasure became increasingly – and dangerously – conflated. Salkind’s almost mechanistic repetition in the final scene of her initial calm state highlighted the poignancy of the play’s ending.

The performance used limited props to great effect, with only a desk space for the Manager and an isolated chair for Emma. Emma’s shoes became significant props: having removed these in the scenes that brought her so close to leaving the morally defunct company, she put them back on for the final scene, as she lapsed back into her corporate role, unable to escape from the Manager and her complete lack of human compassion.

At the heart of the play lies the difficulty of defining language, relationships, and the fine balance between work and play. “We came to an agreed definition last night”, Emma says, as she reports her relationship with Darren to the Manager and attempts to define the meaning of a “romantic” and “sexual” relationship. Whilst the difficulty of definition is crucial to the play’s dialogue, what is easy to discern is the fact that 'Contractions' is a must-see performance for all seventh week theatre-goers.The pace and the pauses of the dialogue between Salkind and Fyffe and the fabulous work of the directors Joe Murphy, Joe Robertson, Chloe Wicks, and Savannah Whaley make this fifty minute performance riveting from start to finish.


Jack Peters

at 10:54 on 6th Jun 2012



Mike Bartlett’s short, vicious two-hander presents the world of work as a relationship graveyard, where love is boxed in by jargon and individual will is made a slave to sales figures. Dark, pessimistic and downright grotesque in places, it is also, thankfully, extremely funny.

Emma’s relationship with colleague Darren Glenister is examined with academic interest by her nameless manager, who pulls strings and carries out threats to ensure an office free of favouritism. The concept of a ‘love contract’, apparently catching on in some companies, is mined for 1984-style social commentary: Emma is ground down by the corporate machine, and made to sacrifice love, family and (in one harrowing scene) the last vestiges of her dignity, all in the name of “policy”. More unexpectedly, it is also played for uncomfortable laughs, particularly in a hilarious sequence of questions about Emma and Darren’s first date, where their radically different expectations are revealed.

It is clear from the start that the directing team (Joe Murphy, Joe Robertson, Chloe Wicks and Savannah Whaley) are out to make people uncomfortable. The design is simple – just two chairs, a desk and some office clutter – but the two actresses are seated awkwardly far away from each other, and much of the audience spends the entire play craning their heads from one to the other. The effect is that of a spectacularly nasty verbal tennis match, an impression borne out by Bartlett’s spiky dialogue and bravura performances from Lucy Fyffe and Charlotte Salkind.

Fyffe had most of the best lines as the emotionless ‘Manager’, Nurse Ratched in a wheely chair. With perfect deadpan, she made the most of the play’s savage humour, and on several occasions prompted guilty laughter from an audience taken aback by her callous management-speak. At one point, Emma asks whether her manager bleeds; it is to Fyffe’s credit that this question seems warranted, but more impressive is that she makes someone almost totally devoid of humanity interesting to watch.

Salkind was given much more to do emotionally, and brought fantastic energy to a play that, for all its virtues, does mainly consist of two people sitting down. From a rather coquettish beginning, in which her character lightly flirts with Fyffe and talks with disarming frankness about the “romantic and/or sexual nature” of her relationship with Darren, she descends convincingly into panic as her work-life balance falls apart. While the power balance between characters shifts throughout the play, the two actresses are well matched.

The play is short and sharp - after an unsettling final scene, the audience is spat out of the theatre after just 45 minutes, feeling a mixture of revulsion and a sort of shamefaced amusement. There were a couple of first-night issues: one or two flubbed lines, and a contract left on the floor throughout the play that jarred with the fact that months pass between scenes. Quibbles, and easily sorted. Also, while the sound design was for the most part interesting – a quasi-futuristic series of beeps and whirrs – the ‘sliding door’ effect that began each scene sounded a bit silly. I’m obviously nitpicking here. The show is a fantastic piece of work, and cast and crew should be congratulated.

In the BT foyer afterwards, I overheard a member of the production team fretting over a scene that had been missed out. In most plays, this would have been glaringly obvious, but I can honestly say that I did not notice. Maybe it’s my old age, but I don’t think anyone else did either. At any rate, if 'Contractions' was that good with a cockup, the rest of the week should be incredible. As a finalist making hesitant steps towards applying for a job, I am now thoroughly intimidated.


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