Wild East

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

05/08/2006 - 09/09/2006

Production Details

Directed by Ross Jolly

A biting and incisive satire on modern corporations, Wild East is topical, very funny and full of surprises.

Frank, a young anthropologist, is applying for a job with a marketing company that is targeting the deregulated, new-look Russia – the Wild East of the title. His fearsome interviewers, Dr Pitt and Dr Gray, spout the usual deadly jargon but their steely veneer fractures as it transpires that their positions are also under threat. As tension mounts the shifting alliances cause unforeseen results, for while Frank seems a hopeless candidate, he has been to the wild east and has surprising mystical powers on his side.

Vigorous, fresh, full of robust humour and highly creative, April de Angelis’ writing has been impressively varied over her 17 year career, with commissions from Out of Joint, Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and The Royal Court, together with an opera libretto for Glyndebourne. Wild East is the first professional production of de Angelis’ work to be seen in New Zealand.

Set Designed by JOHN HODGKINS
Lighting Design by MARCUS McSHANE

Frank                          GAVIN RUTHERFORD
Dr Pitt                         JANE WADDELL
Dr Gray                       LUCY BRIANT

Prod Mgr /      Operator         Julia Watkin
Sound                                      Jeremy Cullen, Ross Jolly
Set Construction                     Iain Cooper, John Hodgkins
Sculpture                                 Phil Halasz
Publicity                                  Claire Treloar
Graphic Design                       Rose Miller, Parlour
Studio Photography                Stephen A'Court
Production Photography        Kevin Hawkins
House Manager                      Suzanne Blackburn
Front of House                        Linda Wilson

Theatre ,

85 mins, no interval

Wild ride and comic gem

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 07th Aug 2006

Wild East, which is a very funny, diverting and off-beat play about ethical behaviour in the corporate world, is the third play in the season of chamber plays at Circa 2 by contemporary English playwrights.

Though its themes and issues wander about all over the place and have at times to be taken with a large pinch of salt – anthropological digs, an epiphany in a Siberian forest, shamanism, the marketing of yoghurt in Russia, the exploitation of the newly deregulated Russia and the devastation of the environment, not to mention the ruthless aftermath of an unhappy office love affair – Wild East takes place in a chic but comfortless office of an unnamed corporation in Surrey.

Frank, a bumbling anthropologist from the University of Lampeter, is about the most hopeless candidate you could imagine for a career in marketing for the company in Siberia (he doesn’t even bother to smarten up for the interview) but he is being interrogated, manipulated, and played with by two women, both with doctorates and driven by the fear that they may lose their jobs after a recent takeover. Also, they were once lovers.

However, as the two women struggle for power and try to impress their unseen superiors (the interview is being videoed), their hapless victim is sucked deeper and deeper, hilariously to start with, into a quicksand of moral outrage and spiritual despair. Finally he breaks and in a dramatic and highly symbolic act he shows some backbone and stands up for what the playwright believes in.

All the twists and turns of the implausible plot and the symbolic force of two pieces of art, one ancient and one modern, are so amusingly written and so highly charged that one is very pleasurably carried along particularly as Ross Jolly’s sleek production boasts three marvellous performances from Jane Waddell as the distraught Dr Pitt, Lucy Briant as the devious Dr Gray, and Gavin Rutherford a sheer delight as the hapless Frank, who is so nervous he’s practically birthing a kitten and who is far too honest for his own good. Their role-playing scene of a Russian household being asked questions by Frank as a market researcher is a comic gem.


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Authenticity needed to validate extreme behaviour

Review by John Smythe 06th Aug 2006

To put it in a nutshell, or smart shrink-wrapped packaging, Wild East equates global brand-led economics with the ancient art of shamanism.

Director Ross Jolly – who introduced Wellington audiences to Martin McDonagh (Ireland), Yasmina Reza (France) and Neil LaBute (USA) – reveals another hot ‘new’ contemporary playwright in April de Angelis (UK).

Marking 17 years of playwrighting by ex-actress April de Angelis, and premiered last year by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court, Wild East ingeniously extracts a potent political critique from what seems, at first, to be an increasingly absurdist play about survival in the modern corporate environment.

It all happens at a job interview and the questions that arise right from the start focus our attention in just the right places. Why does Dr Pitt have her arm in a sling and why has she been off work for six weeks? What exactly is the nature of the relationship between her and Dr Gray? Why is Frank, a nerdy anthropology graduate, applying for a position with a market research company that works for clients who want to capture market share in an economically collapsed former USSR (the ‘wild east’-ern Europe of the title)?

As Frank is put through the Human Resources wringer, with a remote-controlled camera recording proceedings for the edification of absent executives, comedy-of-anguish and satirical barbs generate laugh-out-loud entertainment. And the humour gets richer and darker as the nature of humanity itself, and the values the modern world obliges us to live by, are put up for scrutiny.

Just as we think we’ve got each character nailed, something shifts and we have to re-evaluate. I love plays that keep us on out toes like this. In the end the question we’re left with is who is the shaman here, or is anyone not a self-serving fake? And does this prove the proposition (noted in the programme) that a shaman – described as a doctor, priest and mystic combined – is engaged in a psychically dangerous profession that can lead to insanity or death?

An hilarious role play scene depicting a poor Russian mother and daughter raises the question of who is playing out a role when. Or perhaps the better question to ask is, is anyone ever not playing a role?

This is the sort of comedy that demands fundamental authenticity in performance, no matter how crazy the action gets, which it does. What begins as odd and idiosyncratic escalates into extreme behaviour for – or extreme responses from – each character. Layers are flayed to expose what how each character is strategising to survive, or not, in a world that no longer values anything deeper than this year’s commercial success. Or that, as I see it now, is how the play is designed to work.

Jane Waddell navigates Dr Pitt’s route from hard-bitten realist through paranoid uncertainty to humane empathiser with such conviction that when she has a spectacular fit, we care, and when she is shattered at a shocking act of wonton destruction, we are too.

Engaging us as a shambling, unprepared but very recognisable – and comical – applicant, Gavin Rutherford’s Frank keeps us guessing as to his real motivations and nature. Can he really be a personality fit for the new ‘new world order’ after all? (I hope I’m right in ascribing his tendency to smile when gags work, then try to hide it, as a character trait, rather than Rutherford’s ‘corpsing’.) When, at the end, Frank crows to Dr Gray, “I completed the task!” we’re obliged to re-evaluate all that has gone before: who has set up whom and why? Who has won? What?

Given these complex and intriguing performances, I can only conclude that Lucy Briant’s prejudged demonstration of Dr Gray’s antics, commenting on how fake the character is right from the start rather than ‘being’ her self-justified self, is misjudged because it robs us of the opportunity to be taken in by her professional charm and sincerity then re-evaluate it later. (It’s as if, having given us the expressionless ice-maiden in Drawer of Knives, back in April, Briant is out to prove she can do broad face-pulling comedy too, which is completely beside the point.)

When the play’s true nature and quality troubled rather than thrilled me by curtain call, I had to do a lot of thinking to work out why. I may be wrong but if I’m not, I trust Briant’s Dr Gray will grow to align with the play’s true purpose, allowing it to reveal itself in performance.


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