The Boss of it All

Wed 31st July – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Ashley Chhibber

at 03:25 on 6th Aug 2013

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When Ravn (Ross Armstrong), the anonymous head of an IT company who is desperate to remain loved by his employees, hires out-of-work and slightly unpredictable actor Kristoffer (Gerry Howell) to take on the fictional role of his own boss in order to seal a takeover deal, hilarity ensues. As the UK’s first theatrical adaptation from the oeuvre of famed Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, this production is automatically theatrically interesting; the hard work and abundant talent of the team behind it ensures it is also deeply entertaining.

In a play asking very interesting questions about the nature of leadership and its intersection with responsibility versus anonymity, the voiceover (which adds additional layers of meta-theatre by controlling and deconstructing some of the events occurring on stage) seems the biggest and most elusive boss of all. In contrast, adapter and director Jack McNamara does not shy away from this level of responsibility, and is more than willing to explain in interviews his methods and intentions in taking the ground-breaking step of adapting von Trier to a British theatre.

One key decision involved cutting down the number of senior figures within the company; this worked extremely well, and the dynamic between the six characters was very successful and highly amusing. The set design was flawless. Fixed faux neon lights and movable frosted glass combined to ensure that the space maintained an office atmosphere, but with the flexibility of different rooms. The frosted glass allowed the characters and audience to witness Kristoffer’s conversation with the character he was set to play (i.e. himself), another entertaining glimpse into the theatrical process.

One indicator of the high quality of acting is the extent to which each character is so clearly distinguished and fully-formed. In this production, two actors double-up: Tom McHugh plays both employee Nalle and Icelandic businessman Finwur, whilst James Rigby is similarly Gorm and Finwur’s translator. It was not until they took their bows that I realised this; until then, I had not seen any level of similarity between the two characters played by the same actor. As Finwur, for instance, McHugh is violent and impossible to like; as Nalle, sweet, lovable and completely harmless.

My favourite part of this play occurs near the end, when the fourth wall is half-broken and an address ostensibly to the employees lower down the ranks of the company is given to the audience. In this performance, this resulted in a feeling of psychological audience participation: nothing was actually required of us, but we were drawn even more deeply into the process. The ending itself, surreal and unexpected, is the perfect conclusion to a show of the highest standard.

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Shirley Halse

at 08:47 on 6th Aug 2013

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The Boss of it All is a bit like my younger sister, a bit too clever for her own good and very aware of it. Sadly this is where the similarity ends. My sister doesn’t inspire me to think deep thoughts about performance and identity but instead spouts incomprehensible mathematical jargon. And she’s not that funny. This show is.

To give a general outline – although this might get confusing, meta-theatre has a tendency to be complicated – first of all we are in Denmark. Kristoffer, an actor, has been hired to play the actual boss of a real company. He is hired by the real boss, Ravn, who is pretending to be an employee because he’s too much of a wuss to play his true role. So far Ravn has only been writing the boss’s script by sending emails to the employees, but now it’s necessary for them to meet the boss of it all in person. Still following? To make matters even less simple Ravn has written a slightly different boss figure for each of his employees.

The ultimate result of these complex staff relationships is a hilarious show where no one has an entire grasp of what is going on. Well, the audience are privy to most of the detail and it is the delicious dramatic irony which makes Kristoffer’s desperate bluffs or ‘acting’ incredibly funny to watch. Actually, there is someone who is entirely aware of the events in the play: the God-like voice who narrates some of the blackouts or scene changes. This narrator also remains a constant reminder that what we are watching is something superficial, describing the blackout as hiding the actors while they “scurry into the next position”.

With lines such as “you provoked a scene that wasn’t nice to take part in”, which brilliantly uses theatrical lines to describe working life, whilst actually being on a stage, this show is fantastically smart. One of the most intelligent and funny aspects of the show is the ‘translation’ from Icelandic to Danish. Everyone speaks English – you have to suspend disbelief – but the way in which the Icelandic boss’s abusive terms are made more polite through the translator are hilarious.

The acting is superb, although some comic lines seem to be bulldozed through (presumably for the sake of naturalism). The nuances of facial expression, especially from Gerry Howell (Kristoffer), were really the comic gift of the production.

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