From the confines of one small office on the stage of Bedlam Theatre, Contractions manages to reach the sinister heart of faceless corporation. A dark comedy in its truest definition, you’ll find you have to laugh loudly to cover up your internal gasps of horror.
Mike Bartlett’s play is rigid in its simplicity. A manager sits at her desk, pushing papers, drinking coffee, a small cactus only emphasising the lack of life in the room. A white line around the stage conveys the confined and soul-less office environment effectively. The story is told through a series of interviews as Emma, an employee who works in sales, is brought in to discuss her contractual obligations.
Initially we relax, Emma is bubbly and says ‘y’know’ in a high-pitched voice whilst a smooth posh lady questions Emma about her romantic life. The laughs begin as the question of romance is brought up. It soon transpires that The Manager is trying to ascertain information about a relationship between Emma and co-worker Darren.
The Manager already seems to know a worrying amount about Emma and what she has been doing. As any romance in the relationship is excruciatingly analysed by The Manager and her calculator, it is clear that the company’s ‘duty of care’ only extends as far as how their sales figures are met.
Jo Hill (Emma) is excellent in her transformation from upbeat employee to a beaten and submissive woman. Indeed, it is the contrast struck between these two women as they sit across the desk from each other that perhaps gets to the crux of the play. “Do you even bleed?” asks Emma to The Manager (Grace Dickson), in a moment of desperation. Is The Manager really a woman? Or just a machine working for a company that is hidden behind contracts?
Bartlett wrote this play almost ten years ago as a warning against the increasing power of big companies, their HR departments, and the incarcerating power of legal contracts. Although extreme at times, this message is poignant. Originally titled Love Contracts for performance on the radio, the title Contractions cleverly brings the issues facing women to the fore. What gives one woman the right to be such a powerful and manipulative force over the other?
This is an impressive exploration of an omnipotent and omniscient corporate body that overlooks human emotion. What may start of as awkward laughter more in the region of The Office soon turns to those nervous feelings you get when reading Orwell’s 1984. A great big company has become a threat to the individual. It really is funny, but horrifyingly so.
Photo Credit: Edinburgh University Theatre Company