Review: Significant Other: Inc
Image: The Pensive Federation
What happens when the heart is ripped out of a community?
Its 1988, Margaret Thatcher's third term in office and manufacturing industry in the UK is in sharp decline.
This is Jack's last day in the firm he built up from nothing.
The 'Reseal 9' factory was the town's biggest employer, social hub and support.
What will happen when it and Jack are gone?
An allegory for the loss of the ties that bind us in society and the effect it has on us now, The Pensive Federation are present the 9th Significant Other, this year at the Vaults under Waterloo Station.
Ten writers, 40 actors and 5 assistant directors will be asked to create 10 new individual stories completed within 10 days all combined into one full, immersive play.
Now in its 7th year and ninth iteration, The Significant Other Festival has a basic concept at its dramatic heart - 'create, craft and curate' 10 new 10 minute plays in just 10 days.
It's quite an ask for everyone involved - not least for the able cast of 40 who have to learn their lines and everything else to do with their performances in almost the blink of an eye, relatively speaking.
With each outing, the challenge to produce these plays in such a short space of time takes on a new twist with, for example, writers asked to focus on a central theme, or to reference the other plays in the festival.
This year, The Pensive Federation have gone a little further, aiming to construct a complete play from the efforts of the writers.
Now this is both an interesting and worthy challenge that allows writers to experiment, and actors to hone and display their skills in a strictly time-limited schedule.
In the end, though, the real test of this creative process is what we actually see on the stage in the final performance because that's how every other show that finds its way onto any stage, anywhere, is judged.
The audience (apart from those, perhaps, cheering on friends and colleagues) don't really care how the show has been developed, but are interested merely in what it's about and whether they can feel involved in what is happening during the show and discover interesting characters and twists in the storyline.
The Vaults with its bare brick walls, visible wiring and air conditioning ducts, and austere tunnel ambience provides an instant factory look and feel which director Neil J. Byden has appropriately seized on here to build his setting.
So, we find ourselves in a factory on one day in April 1988.
We never really learn very much about the exact nature of the business, but like most examples of this type of organisation we find an owner-manager, sales people, cleaners, packers and the like.
What's significant about this particular day is that Jack, the plant manager, is retiring after 47 years at the firm and what we witness are interactions that spread across the entire range of factory staff during this one day.
A huge leaving card, which is doing the rounds of all the employees, elbows its way into almost every scene.
There are moments of confrontation and conflict, for example as three women apply for the same job in Daniella Harry's 'Lug' and there's friction between a flash salesman and one of the shop-floor workers in Catrin Lowe's 'Coupling' which nicely balances tension and humour.
Anthony Cozens (centre left) as Nigel and John Rayment's Jack (centre right)
Now I worked in a similar factory environment for a fairly lengthy spell, more years ago than I care to remember.
The grind of the daily routine in this kind of institution was mind-numbing and, as is clearly referenced in this story, productivity was hardly top of the workers' agendas.
But at the same time, my experiences certainly include lots of inventive fun such as delivering elaborately-constructed pranks on easily-duped, and sometimes not-so-easily-duped fellow workers.
And there were inevitably times when tensions rose almost to fever pitch, and sometimes boiled-over, particularly if the autocratic family-led management introduced new working methods or, god-forbid, limited overtime working.
Sadly, we don't actually get any of those elements in Neil Byden's production, even if he conjures affectionate authenticity in the setting and secures watchable performances all-round.
But Jack's impending departure is really insufficient on its own to carry this quite lengthy piece, leaving me to wonder if forcing the writers into a fairly tight framework left them lacking the creative freedom to fully mine the potentially rich setting for sparky incidents, earthy factory humour and some real grit.
The concept for this festival is challenging but, I assume, fun for all concerned, even if it obviously demands monumental amounts of energy and damned hard work.
But the final staged product is what counts, and overall it felt rather monolayered and somewhat underwhelming in the manner of many of the TV sitcoms we used to endure around the same period in which this industrial-based venture is set.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for The Vaults Theatre
Our show listing for Significant Other: Inc
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