Contractions is a new piece of morbidly comical theatre from Mike Bartlett (Doctor Foster, King Charles III) depicting several meetings between a manager and an employee, each ascending in absurdity but importance, raising questions about how invasive our workplaces can become and a gloriously over exaggerated demonstration of the lack of privacy that comes with being in a relationship with a colleague.
Bartlett’s writing is razor sharp, each joke more cutting than the last. As the piece continues, the script spirals into an entirely farcical metaphor about privacy. Although it presents the audience with sheer in-your-face insanity, it limits itself and prevents itself from becoming obnoxious. The language is perfectly natural, despite it’s contradicting circumstances and carries the piece until the end with a constantly intelligent and almost rhythmic dialogue throughout. However, Bartlett’s piece, although fast-paced and chilling, lasts only over half an hour, instead of the advertised running time of fifty minutes. While the direction is slick for the most part, the anomaly of transition between the meetings is very obvious; the employee walks to the front of the stage, the lights blackout and the scene restarts. This linearity just makes the piece feel incomplete and could so easily be solved by a simple sound effect and a subtle movement from the actors.
Nicki Rochford plays Emma, the employee. Rochford’s performance is natural and captures the mad palette of emotions that her character experiences throughout the duologue elegantly, always avoiding going overboard, which could be so easy with a character that goes through so much in such a short space of time.
Dee Thompson’s portrayal of ‘The Manager’ is near faultless. Her grinding passive-aggression is hilarious as well as chilling and so easy to relate to someone that we all work with (don’t pretend that you don’t have one). As well as maintaining this harsh exterior, Thompson also shows versatility in her character near the end of Contractions, but the character still remained a closed book, which was the most captivating thing about them.
Contractions is a hidden gem of this year’s fringe, with a wonderfully unique premise, supported by an excellent script and two solid performances. Utterly simplistic, not dressed up in any bells and whistles, simply because it doesn’t need to be.