Psychopaths lack the ability to sympathise with other people. As a result they are manipulative and able to perform atrocities without remorse. Ben Tagoe’s new play examines the suggestion that, in order to thrive in the modern world, we have to suppress empathy and behave like psychopaths.
Computer literate but naïve Noel (Shaun Cowlishaw) is talked into committing fraud and ends up in gaol where he is subject to further manipulation by the inmates. The brevity of the play limits the ability of Tagoe to both explore the themes and develop a satisfactory narrative. One might accept that the audience has to apply imagination to fill in the gaps in the details of white-collar crime and jailhouse rituals. But Tagoe concentrates on his theme at the expense of the storytelling. There is a sense that once the writer decided on the direction of his play he simply proceeded towards the conclusion generating few surprises.
The style of the play is imaginative with flourishes such monologues switching between speakers as key words are spoken. But emphasising the theme of the play results in the cast representing viewpoints rather than actual people. Babajide Fado’s Ray is a calculating financial services officer whose irresponsible attitude and contempt for his clients represents the greed that brought about the recession.William Fox’s splendidly twitchy and damaged Michael shows that abuse at an early age can drive empathy out of a person and create a monster.
The difficulty in finding a sympathetic character mutes the dramatic impact of the play. The traditional dramatic approach of generating concern by showing a character’s growing corruption does not work in a play where pretty much everyone is shown as tainted from the first scene.
Which is a shame because the play looks great. Director Rod Dixon’s production is stylish and the frequent scene changes are achieved seamlessly and without distraction. Set designer Signe Beckmann’s sophisticated ice cool office helps set the atmosphere of a place where arrogant people believe that they are above the rules and it changes, with a minimum of disruption, to an austere prison. The sound designs of James Frewer ranging from hissing background noises to discordant electronic tones add to the sense of things going out of control.