Since its Barcelona premiere in 2003, this play by the Catalan dramatist Jordi Galceran has been seen in more than 60 countries. Now that Britain has finally caught up with it, it can’t help seeming overfamiliar, since we’re not exactly short of plays that expose the Darwinian selection tactics of the corporate world. Even though Galceran springs plenty of narrative surprises, his play rarely shocks us into new awareness.
It presents us with four applicants for the same job confined to a Manhattan suite and forced to undergo a series of psychological tests devised by the company’s HR department.
The candidates comprise a cocksure bully, a New Jersey nerd and a couple of Harvard Business School graduates. As in Glengarry Glen Ross, four people are engaged in a cut-throat competition although without David Mamet’s salty linguistic vigour. When their instructions arrive through a sinister office-drawer, Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter leaps to mind. Above all, the play is shadowed by TV’s The Apprentice with its business-world elimination dance.
Galceran seeks to inject new life into an old form by keeping the audience guessing. Like the candidates, we are unsure which of them is a company stool-pigeon. Like them, we are invited to consider a number of moral posers, such as whether the company would employ someone whose life was in chaos or who was undergoing gender transition.
The problem is that Galceran is so busy playing tricks on the audience that the attack on the corporate ethos gets lost: it is difficult to see the world as it really is when the wool is constantly being pulled over one’s eyes.
The play, in a translation by Anne García-Romero and Mark St Germain, is slickly directed by BT McNicholl and adroitly acted. Jonathan Cake is horribly plausible as a domineering cynic, and even if Laura Pitt-Pulford has to fulfil the traditional role of the steely businesswoman, she is very good, along with John Gordon Sinclair as the nice guy and Greg McHugh as the gender-switcher. But, while the play keeps one passably entertained, it leaves the capitalist system untouched.