My initial vocalisation of my thoughts on this performance immediately afterward was “Bizarre but Brilliant”. I’ve had a few days since then to mull things over but I think it remains the most concise and accurate way I can describe this show.
(SPOILERS MAY BE FOUND AHEAD)
With very little dialogue in the piece, the four main performers are all masters of physicality with an expert ability to convey expressions in both micro and macro form. Each actor creates distinctive physical character attributes that they maintain throughout the performance, be it Adam Deane’s versatile eyes, Josie Underwood’s endearing yet unnerving smile, Jay Wakely’s stern, perpetually puzzled brow, or Cordelia Stevenson’s general unique theatrical presence.
The cast use their skill with physicality along with simultaneously amusing and discomforting vocalisation to create a beautifully eccentric scene and soundscape that is harrowing and hilarious in equal measure. Wakely’s character is the only one of the four with a vocabulary of more than one word, which is fitting given the performer’s powerful, authoritative voice that helps to centre and focus the action of the other characters. Much of the brilliance of the performance comes from the skillful mania with which they put their sublimely simple set to full and effective use. I loved motif and device of the light bulbs above their heads indicating when a character would or wouldn’t be in more grounded and logical state (as far as these characters can be anyway).
Watching these characters cycle through a series of pointless, repetitive tasks, in an increasingly ridiculous manner, is far more satisfying and entertaining than you’d ever think. The absurd purgatory of business and finance that they inhabit is pleasingly satirical without being heavy-handed or overblown with any particular message. You find yourself not exactly sure what the piece is satirising but at the same time somehow instinctively recognising and appreciating that satire. The whole thing is a wonderful example of the surreal and absurd which can easily, as I have seen, be done wrong and just end up as an incoherent mess. For this show, it lands perfectly, and the composition and direction of the piece is simply stellar.
The addition of James Robert Gordon, as the menacing, imposing figure that haunts the office workers, brings the darkest, most disturbing moments of this production. Gordon’s stage presence is subtle but terrifying and does much to turn proceedings from manically comic to darkly comic in a recurring sequence that becomes increasingly disquieting.
In fact, you could say it induces feelings of great…unpleasance! (Get it? Because the play is performed at Pleasance Courtyard? Huh?? Huh???)
…Okay, moving on.
Things move from darkly comic to just plain dark with (award-winning poet) Laurie Ogdens’ disturbing cameo at the conclusion. It’s incredible how emotive and powerful an actor can make roughly five minutes of non-speaking stage-time, but Ogden manages it. It’s a beautiful use of the Mood Whiplash and a perfect end to this very unique show.
Of the thirty or so shows I’ve so far seen this year, I think Follow Suit might be the weirdest but also one the best-executed and skillfully crafted on the list. I’d recommend it as a show well worth experiencing, especially if, as I do, you have an appreciation for the slightly more off-kilter.