Back in December, Rohan Candappa wrote to me asking if he could by any chance use the big Z/Yen meeting room on 28 January to try out his latest piece of performance writing early evening on the motley bunch of Alleyn’s alumni (I include myself in that epithet) who gather occasionally in the City for beer, curry and old times’ sake.
Strangely, Z/Yen’s big meeting room is not much used at 19:00 in the evening, so it would have seemed churlish to say no, especially when Rohan agreed to sponsor some beer and nibbles. Linda Cook, our Z/Yen practice manager, was hurriedly elected an honorary Alleyn’s alum for the evening, so the organisation of the event was practically resolved, even with John Eltham out of the country for much of January.
It felt incongruous (in a pleasant way) to have the Alleyn’s gang at the Z/Yen office for the evening. For one thing, I didn’t realise how well behaved we could be when gathered together in the right environment. There weren’t even any teachers to keep us in check.
But to Rohan’s extraordinary piece. The title basically divulges the plot. Rohan expresses in poignant terms the emotions he experienced when told that he was being made redundant. There is nothing funny about the way being made redundant makes someone feel, but the circumstances of this attempted redundancy are quite ludicrous. In the hands of Rohan Candappa, who is highly skilled at bitter-sweet humour as well as the more standard comedy variety, this sad story generated a remarkable amount of laughter. It is a very funny piece.
The humour builds once Rohan reaches the point in the story where, having had time to reflect on his seemingly hopeless situation, he decides to try and win against the odds. He initiates this twist brilliantly by telling the story of the Cuban rebels attacking the Moncada Barracks in 1953 – click here if you want to see the Wikipedia version of the story – although Rohan’s version is more pertinent to his story and far more fun.
Click here if you want to see the pictures Janie and I took of the Moncada Barracks in 2007. Indeed feel free to hang around in Flickr looking at our Cuba pictures generally. It’s one heck of a photogenic place. As long as you promise to come back here afterwards and finish reading this blog piece.
Once the “fight back” part of Rohan’s story starts to unfold, the piece becomes even funnier and has terrific momentum to it. I almost felt sorry for [Insert name here] (the boss behind the attempted redundancy) and his human resources hench-woman…
…I said ALMOST felt sorry for them. Cut me some slack guys. Or say how you felt about it with your own words in the comments section. Don’t just yell at the screen.
There are precious few pieces of theatre about the workplace and even fewer good ones. With all due respect to Vaclav Havel, who wrote several absurdist pieces about work places, I have seen more than one but never got much out of those Havel plays. Indeed, the only really good play about the workplace that comes to my mind is David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross. In an intriguing echo of Rohan’s title, btw, the film version of Glengarry Glen Ross (which is a very good movie) has the phrase “F*** You” articulated in an infeasible number of different ways for a two-syllable phrase. But I digress. My point is that the workplace is a big part of our lives but is wicked hard to turn into good drama. Rohan has succeeded in producing some very good drama indeed in this piece, which is a commendable achievement.
In short, the piece is a triumph and I really hope that Rohan progresses with it and gets it a wider audience. It is really thought-provoking as well as entertaining.
We sat in the meeting room chatting for ages after the performance; some of the group are people who have been made redundant, others of us people who have been in a position where we have dismissed staff ourselves. Everyone had experiences, thoughts and points to make. Eventually we realised that we were late for our meal and that our restaurant booking might go south unless we quickly headed south to the Rajasthan. So we migrated and continued our conversations there. A very special evening.