Love London Love Culture spoke to the actress currently appearing in Deafinitely Theatre’s production of Contractions now playing at the New Diorama Theatre.
Hi Abigail, thank you so much for talking to Love London Love Culture. How were rehearsals for the production?
In the words of Emma, ‘It all went very well thank you’. But in all seriousness, it was an incredibly interesting and creative process from the onset. From the research and development stages with Paula and Fifi, back in August, looking at ways we can make the play accessible to hearing and deaf audiences without just doing your bog-standard captioned text or interpreting through the month of rehearsals to now, while performing we are still adjusting and finding new layers nightly. I was fully absorbed by the world of Mike Bartlett’s ‘Contractions’ while being guided and directed by our incredible Director Paula Garfield with assistance from the awesome Brian Duffy. As we were rehearsing just off of our performance space where real office workers would be going about their daily lives it was specifically helpful having that just outside of the rehearsal room door! If I ever needed to be reminded of Emma’s daily life or her struggle, I would just pop out of the rehearsal room, take a seat and watch these people living it. What a privilege. Paula has been simply sensational throughout, creating a safe and playful environment for us to build our roles and world of the play. An invaluable time.
What in your mind makes this production special?
I think there are a few factors that make this production special, first and foremost as a Deafinitely Production, the show integrates British Sign Language, Sign Supported English and spoken English in an artistic and bold manner which presents an incredibly unique viewing experience for both hearing and Deaf audience members. Another factor that makes this play so special is the site-specific nature of the piece – you will literally be sat in an office space, in the world of the play, watching as the tale unfolds. Finally, Mike Bartlett’s writing is enough to get you down to the ND2, his work is a masterpiece that leaves you feeling a mix of emotions.
How would you describe the play for those who aren’t familiar with it?
If you’re not familiar with the play I would describe Contractions as a fast-paced, witty dark comedy that borders the realms of absurd while looking at the toxic and manipulative relationship between The Manager and new recruit to The Company, Emma. The play is told through a series of meetings between The Manager and Emma that portray the desperation of a worker who fears never working again should she loose the office job of her dreams. It spans many years, depicting the downfall of Emma at the hands of The Company and their nonsensical legally binding contracts.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your character Emma?
Emma is a brand-new recruit to ‘The Company’, full of energy and charisma she starts the job blissfully ignorant to extent she is willing to stretch for the sake of her job, at the merciless hands of the cruel and calculated Manager.
She is incredibly hard-working, living life by the book, she gets to work on time, in the correct attire using all the right words. She is warm-hearted, professional and would be the person you could confide in should you need advice. Having moved to the big smoke for this new role in this exciting ‘Company’, she is left perplexed by the style of management adopted by her new Manager. Despite her initial suspicion she is swallowed and warped by the corporate system and loses her way in the dark.
What did you initially think when you read the script?
When I first read the script I felt how I imagine the audience feels after watching the production – A little disturbed and distressed at the sheer victimisation of Emma and the absurdity of the depths she is willing to go to keep her office job. I was angry and upset for her journey and wanted her to stand up and tell the Manager to find someone else because she’s out of there! I also felt a wave of gratitude for having never experienced this kind of work-place treatment and heart-break that Emma lives.
What would you say is the main message of the play?
I believe at the ‘heart’ of Contractions is the absurd treatment of employees who are legally bound by bonkers policies, at the merciless hands of their employers.
It’s entrapment in essence, abusing the desperation of those who are deeply unhappy at work but persevere on their professional plight regardless, due to an all-consuming fear that repeatedly tells them that they are “never going to get a job as good as this” ever again.
Contractions, delves, specifically into the manipulative bond that binds a Manager to their staff body, exploring the ill-treatment which is a universally and timelessly felt by us all at some point in our working lives. This is shown through the Managers brutal victimisation of Emma throughout this dark comedy, their relationship acting as a microcosm symbolic of all those thousands – millions (!) of workers who are being exploited in the work place daily.
Given the fact the play is about the blurring of lines between work and play – do you think people should keep their personal and private lives separate?
I think that people should keep a level of privacy when it comes to the work place. Mike Bartlett’s play is an extreme insight into what can happen should the lines blur between private and professional matters. It’s so intrusive and this information could then be used as a leverage to keep you in a position you may not want to be in.
What do you think that people will be able to relate most to about the play?
I think people will relate to the ‘Awful Boss’ aspect of the play – I mean, we’ve all been there haven’t we! Audience members have disclosed their own experiences with these cold, and live-by-the-book type Managers that have manipulated them in the past. I believe they will also count their blessings that there is now such strong support from unions across the board and that this type of behaviour wouldn’t go unseen in this day and age – you’d hope not anyway!
Is there anything about it in particular that you have been able to relate to?
I have been able to relate to the newly recruited aspect of Emma and the general want to please and impress while trying to decipher how things work in this new world of work. I was a sales assistant ‘temp’ for a big store in London a couple of years back and it was just that, keeping a brave face, smiling along with professionalism but just beneath the surface having no clue about what was going on. I felt as though I was battling through, swimming upstream to get to the end of shift. I’ve been really struggling with playing the victim and allowing the Manager to completely control me, it’s not in my own nature; though of course we can all be victimised. I tend to refuse. I’ve been walking to rehearsals with my new mantra “I am a VICTIM, I am VULNERABLE’ in order to integrate this into my performance while being a puppet to The Manager for an hour and fifteen minutes of the day.
If you were trying to persuade someone to come along and see the show – what would you say?
Come and see this innovative piece of dark theatre presented in a copro between Deafinitely Theatre and The New Diorama in a bold and brilliant way, using a mixture of British Sign Language, Sign Supported English and spoken English to tell this witty and absurd tale of Mike Bartletts CONTRACTIONS. You won’t be coming to your standard black box theatre space, you will actually enter the world of the play in the form of a huge office space in central London where real officer workers are still typing away in the background. The backdrop of the play isn’t the set it’s the real office world in this site-specific version. This play has the potential to change your life and shift your perspective of the importance of work – challenging your views on how far you are willing to stretch for your job. Don’t miss this unique piece of theatre.
Contractions continues to play at the New Diorama Theatre until the 29th November. For more information visit: http://www.newdiorama.com/whats-on/contractions