Recent films like The Corporation and Super Size Me have addressed the pervasive and often malign influence huge multinational corporations have over the individual. April De Angelis’ new play takes a similar tack, but in such a woolly and obtuse fashion it's hard to fathom her true intentions.
Its nominal hero is Frank (Tom Brooke), a bumbling anthropology graduate from the University of Lampeter eager to secure a position that will take him back to his beloved Russia. First, however, he must face a tough grilling from Dr Gray (Helen Schlesinger) and Dr Pitt (Sylvestra Le Touzel), two formidable women with their own, often contradictory agendas.
With its three-hander format and single, claustrophobic setting – a sleek, modernist office designed by Mark Thompson in glinting glass and chrome – comparisons to Huis Clos are unavoidable. And as the interview unfolds, it becomes clear these three people are very much trapped in a Sartre-esque hell of their own making.
Yet two things stop De Angelis’ play achieving a similar metaphorical weight. The first is her love for tongue-twisting verbiage, which forces her protagonists to spew meaningless doggerel that inevitably confines the action to the here and now. (“How might you begin to hypothesise a notional strategy of product placement in the present Russian climate?” asks Schlesinger at one point) The second, more damaging factor is that the characters behave like no human beings on earth – especially not those in a formal situation that’s being filmed by an overhead camera.
Would a prospective candidate really smoke a joint during an interview? Would his interrogators – estranged lesbian lovers whose jobs are both on the line – really lock lips in the workplace? And would an anthropology graduate be of any use in getting an oil pipeline laid through rural Russia? Such literal questions may conflict with the absurdist ambitions of this often farcical piece. But, if Wild East is to satirise the oppressive corporate mindset, it must surely have at least one foot in the plausible.
Director Phyllida Lloyd elicits strong performances from her cast, particularly Le Touzel as an embittered executive whose post-traumatic stress disorder arising from a brutal assault has made her surplus to requirements. But a baffling subplot involving a stolen artefact of great Shamanic significance over-eggs the pudding, turning what should have been an ironic commentary on murky business ethics into a strained and alienating curio.