Shocking, and Darkly Enjoyable - The Here and This and Now
Whether a play is tackling scientific progress, outer space or the life of pharmaceutical representatives as they memorise medical jargon during an office away-day, the human condition - the meaning of it all - is always at its centre.
The Here and This and Now, a play by writer Glenn Waldron, focuses on what its four characters are holding on to to keep going every day. It so happens that at the beginning of the play, they are all working in the same pharmaceutical company and are training for their next pitch.
You’ve got Niall (Simon Darwen), the manager, who flawlessly opens the play with a seamless pitch that mentions his son’s passion for trains and demonstrates his ease at connecting with whomever he is talking to.
Then, you’ve got Gemma (Tala Gouveia), in her early twenties; she has just joined the team and is performing very well, showing high potential. Already she is thinking about the perks she could land after a few years with the company, such as a car or a big promotion.
Thirdly, there is Robbie (Andy Rush), who becomes Gemma’s learning partner. An ex-medical student, he seems to have given up on feeling any strong emotions and doesn’t quite see the point of getting up in the morning. Upon listening to Gemma’s positivity and hope, he is very sceptical and assures her it’s all for nothing.
Finally, there is Helen (Becci Gemmell), a nervous and careful woman who doesn’t quite fit into the group and has difficulty making the pitch her own. We assume she does not stay with the company long afterwards.
The stage, designed by Bob Bailey, presents a grey carpeted floor and plastic chairs. This implies the office environment, but I would have preferred more details that would have given more of a feel for the room they were in, especially as they were presenting their pitches to the audience.
The four characters’ pitches are interrupted by game sessions that resemble focus exercises in acting classes, from clapping to ball throwing. As we know, drama exercises can be helpful in many situations. In this show, what they did was put forward focus, the attempt to “be in the moment”, in the midst of a rehearsed sales pitch. This is the large theme of the play: the moments we all remember in our lives, and how these very personal memories help us move forward.
a shocking and also darkly enjoyable evening that flows easily between scenes
A striking moment was when, after a conversation with Robbie about the pursuit of happiness or lack thereof, Gemma reveals her hope that they end up together. It is a moment of surprise, that reveals something about Gemma but allows us to see Robbie in a differenty light. He then proceeds with the focus exercise they were doing, and the theme takes on a new dimension for him and for us.
The second part of Waldron’s play takes us six years later. Helen is in Niall’s house, whom she has sedated and tied up. She is here for revenge: the medication that they were selling six years ago has killed a large part of the population, including close friends and family members. As her son is now showing symptoms, her last hope is to receive a miracle pill from Niall. She has come with all sorts of tools to torture Niall, and we as the audience are on the edge of our seats. Will she do it? And what will we see? This is where theatre is superior to film, in that we are not guaranteed gore, but that’s the exciting part.
Oddly, the scene forces laughter, partly out of nerves but due to Gemma’s hilarious tics and choices of words. The writing and pacing are perfectly executed, from Gemma’s hesitations to her decisions on how to torture Niall. Gemmell’s performance is fantastic.
Overall, Waldron’s writing is full of hesitations and language tics that make it sometimes sound ad-libbed, and it is a joy to listen to. Each character has their very specific personality, which is highlighted by Simon Stokes’s direction. Niall’s lip licking and pocket-bound hands,. for example, make him the sleazy sales rep.
This production by Theatre Royal Plymouth is a shocking and also darkly enjoyable evening that flows easily between scenes thanks to the high level of performances and the detailed and natural writing by Waldron.
- The Here and This and Now is on at the Southwark Playhouse, London, until 10 February.
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