First published in The Times, Saturday August 12 2017
The enterprise itself in Brian Parks’s latest play is never identified, and, like the elusive World Wide Wicket Company in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, we are never made aware exactly what goes on within its skyscraper HQ. The playwright names his protagonists Landry, Owens, Sanders and Weaver, but they could be any quartet of floundering middle managers trying to stay afloat in the commercial stew.
Parks’s satire on corporate conformity may be short on specifics but it is deft in its skewering of ruthless office behaviour and meaningless business-speak. When the play’s four identikit desk drones arrive at work one morning to be greeted, not by the sweet smell of success, but the rank odour of the company’s stock price falling, panic gives way to a hardnosed survival instinct. A “proposal” is hastily put together, ripped apart and reassembled, as the group desperately tries to come up with stratagem (or “gems of strategy”, as one of their number puts it) to turn the ailing company’s fortunes around.
Like his previous award-winning Edinburgh outing Americana Absurdum, Parks’s comedy is composed of short, rapid-fire scenes, many of which take the form of extended riffs on all aspects of corporate life, from the all-important expenses budget to an elaborate paean to the skyscraper. With no scenery to speak of in David Calvitto’s well-choreographed production, and few props save the odd chair, all our focus is on the performances, and the actors (Brian Dykstra, Jonathan Fishman, Christopher Carley and Matthew Boston) tackle Parks’s snaking dialogue with absolute commitment.
If there is a complaint, it is that the set-up becomes repetitive after a while, with the playwright attempting to pack a little too much into an hour. Many of the set pieces and images hit home, however, not least the scene in which the quartet returns from a bruising meeting with “someone upstairs”, having lost control of their bladders in the process. Says one, sniffing the air: “This is what a successful company smells like!”