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Theatre: Under Ice

Written by Nic Connaughton on August 27, 2009

UNDER ICE
Written by Falk Richter

Translated by David Tushingham
Directed by Kellie Mackereth
Starring: Terry Serrio, Adam Booth, Sebastian Stewart, Paris Change and Jason Langley

The corporate world is a cold-blooded beast. It’s a dog eat dog production line that takes energetic and naïve young suits, transforms them into delusional, self aggrandising megalomaniacs before spitting them back out as broken and empty shells. It’s this process that takes front and centre in German playwright (and director) Falk Richter’s Under Ice, which is currently playing at Griffin Theatre as a part of the Griffin Independent season. Whilst not a highly original concept- the modern obsession with corporate productivity, profit margins and share prices as a destructive force in society- this production from director Kellie Mackereth manages to create an unnerving sense of isolation and gradually encroaching doom in the small space of The Stables Theatre.

Central to this is a stunning digital installation by Mathew Mackereth which transforms sections of the stage walls into at once a stock market share board, a malleable newspaper headline, an airport departures board, a TV news update bar, an airport runway and an abstract night or deep ocean. It’s a stunning work on its own and superbly conveys the right amount flickering menace and irony whilst also reminding us of the pervasive nature in which the corporate world has come to inhabit our public and private spaces. It also acts as a nice distraction from a script, which despite the best efforts of a talented cast, never quite manages to nail the right mix between comic exaggeration and realism.

The play is structured around the central character of Paul Niemand (Terry Serio) and his series of direct to audience monologues form the spine upon which the rest of Richter’s script hangs. We meet Niemand, too old to change careers and too young to retire, as he has just been fired from his consultancy job following a less than convincing performance in the company production of The Lion King. It’s one of many morale boosting and team orientated activities that are not to unfamiliar to anyone in the corporate world.  Whilst these monologues effectively introduce many of the plays central tenants and thematic motifs (ice, airports and flying cats among them), it’s in the exaggerated characterisation and comic interactions with his colleagues that the play really excels.

Jason Langley as the height of his career executive Charlie Sunshine, delivers the plays real comic (and strongest) moments and yet his characterisation never descends into caricature. Even in his wildest moments, including an almost slapstick-meets-Gene Kelly physical theatre meltdown, Langley’s Sunshine presents the most rounded and ultimately affecting character transformation- from hot shot with nothing to fear to the exec hanging onto the tenuous strands of his position. Adam Booth as the young and naïve suit on the way up is under used but delivers the most affecting and penultimate monologue.

Under Ice is just that, a solid production that for the most part remains submerged below the surface. It revels in mining the murky depths of existential corporate angst but is most successful when the sharply critical satire is allowed to break free from these shackles and explode from the water. In its almost unreality, the shocking similarities with modern life come even more sharply into focus.

You will love this if:
you want too see a brilliant piece of digital art installation integrated brilliantly into a solid, if slightly remote production.
You will hate this if: you can’t stand the cold or monologues.

Under Ice is playing at Griffin Theatre Company, The Stables Theatre (Nimrod St, Kings Cross) until the 12th September.

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