An absurdist play written in 1965 shouldn’t echo so much of 2016’s social realism but in Václav Havel’s play, The Memo, elements of our zeitgeist are very recognizable (the play was originally called The Memorandum before being translated into English by Paul Wilson in 2012). The bureaucracy most of us have come to loathe but is oh so familiar, be it in the workplace; applying for a loan; even buying or selling anything online, gets presented and somewhat poked at by Big Loop Theatre Company.
Interestingly, the play was written by the last president of Czechoslovakia (subsequently the first president of the Czech Republic). Havel was a self-proclaimed believer in humanism, a theme that is repeatedly referred to in the play explicitly and implicitly.
The play focuses on an unnamed company’s ‘put upon’ managing director, Mr. Gross (James Sarson) trying to deal with a new language called ‘Ptydepe’ (the ‘p’ is silent) being introduced and implemented by his deceptive deputy, Mr Ballas (Tobias Weatherburn). Mr. Ballas uses the confusion caused by the language for his own gains, in a manipulative misuse of power.
As with a lot of absurdist drama, language, and sometimes the collapse of language, is at the play’s core. The company have done incredibly well in this regard and rise to what is a difficult task with finesse and wonderfully crisp clarity.
Each player in turn had their moments of comic brilliance, and there isn’t a weak link among them. James Sarson, as the main protagonist, provides a wonderful through line for the piece, acting as the catalyst for the absurd bureaucratic cycle that the play exists in. Tobias Weatherburn, as the infuriating deputy, Mr. Ballas, is excellent in his role as the main antagonist.
Elinor O’Leary also impresses in her two roles but particularly as Hana, the monotone, ever wanting, secretary. Rhys Denton, as the creepy and aptly named ‘watcher’, and Aaron Price (Stroll) are very good too. Special mention, however, must go to Melanie Stevens and Ash Cummings, for their hilarious performances in the ‘Ptydepe’ class, as teacher and teacher’s pet, respectively.
It isn’t always necessary to mention all the players in a review; however, the sense of the ensemble is at the heart of this production. Director George Soave seems to have the exact priority needed when it comes to making absurd drama work, and that is the maintenance of its rhythm(s). The rhythms managed here created are something that is only normally achievable in a comedy double act (think of the Morecambe and Wise breakfast sketch). The text, the performers and their director were all so in tune with each other.
The one thing that seemed a little out of kilter was the space. Whilst the gallery space in the Little Man Café provided a fine backdrop, I would have liked to see this in an actual office setting to pushing those parallels we have with a one absurdist world.
This solitary qualm (not even a qualm, really) aside, this sell out production is excellent. Watch out for it in the future and get your tickets before they sell out again!