By Louise Marshall
“I am woman, hear me roar!”
Oh, Helen Reddy, where are you now that we really need you? Back in 1972 you made a very necessary statement, and you shouted it loud and clear. You were strong, you were invincible, and you set the tone for much of the feminist rhetoric that was to influence popular culture.
But today, your 1970s voice sounds as strident as Germaine’s. First-wave feminism has long passed, and it’s a brave playwright who revisits it without a clear sense of irony and an even clearer post-modern vision. Which means that Louise Marshall’s new musical show, Corporate: Work’s a Bitch, is taking on a huge job.
I saw the play on a Saturday night, when the Sue Benner Theatre was packed with aspiring middle-management city types, lots of friends and relations, and a fair smattering of good corporate citizens. Not the audience you’d find at La Boite or the Brisbane Powerhouse, or even at other Metro Arts offerings; rather the kind of people who flock to shows like Menopause: the Musical and smutty British comedies. Lots of hairy-lesbian jokes, office sexual politics, deep cleavages and tight jocks, and of course girl-titter about the size of the men’s equipment.
I still can’t work this show out. Retro it certainly is, with flat cat-walk pancake make-up and busting bustiers, and silken legs as long as those in a Hollywood chorus line, but I couldn’t find any irony in the treatment. It was more like The Pyjama Game gone up-market, where the clichés of life in a city legal firm are no different from those on a 1960s factory floor. Guys rule, OK, and if a girl wants to get on she has to have balls of steel, even if it means tearing them from one of her male competitors. Let’s laugh at the old sexist clichés, the show seems to be saying, but let’s not really do anything to change them in fact Corporate encourages rather than undermines sexism, by refusing to take it seriously.
Almost everyone in the cast is a product of The Actors Workshop, and whatever else they teach them there, it certainly isn’t theatrical professionalism. To start the show 20 minutes late on the fourth night of a run, without any explanation or apology, is insulting to an audience, and no other theatre company in town would dare to do it. But then, the show doesn’t really try to be professional. It’s more like graduation night at an expensive Talent School, where pretty prancing ponies show off their tricks for the talent-spotters, and the makeup artists and costume designers are the real stars of the show. I haven’t seen so much gorgeous underwear in years, and the makeup is straight from a potential barrel girl’s portfolio.
Clear diction and projection obviously aren’t an important part of the curriculum either, if this production is anything to judge by. Louise Marshall’s script is clichéd enough, but when it’s gabbled and garbled as badly as it is by most of the actors, even the most obvious of the comments fall flat. Most of the laughs are generated by the physical action, like the tizzy walk of the Doris Day look-alike who teeters on her kitten heels, and the serial bonking on the office desks. Great choreography from Simone Fallon, but as far as scripts go, Michael Frayne does farce much better.
This is partly a personal judgment, of course, because plays like Corporate are not to my taste. The playwright has taken the easy option of sending up an unattractive culture without taking it seriously. There are important issues at stake here which could have been addressed in a less simplistic manner. Heaven forbid that I should come across as an ageing, joyless, hairy-legged, ball-breaking heterosexual feminist, but this show needs a sharper wit, a keener edge, if it’s to be anything more than a silly romp.
However, as I’m also the last person to knock new playwrights and companies, full marks to Louise Marshall and her team for having a go, and I have to admit there’s an audience for this kind of show, as the full houses demonstrate.
Who’s going to play Twister on the board room table? How many para-legals can the CEO hump in one night? Will those golden glitter false eyelashes drop off? Which office tart will burst out of her décolletage first? If you care about these questions, then you might well enjoy it. But on a professional level, I’d be very worried indeed if my solicitor’s alcohol of choice were Johnny Walker and coke in a can. Don’t young corporates have any class these days? Whatever happened to Bolly and that other kind of coke? Come back, Eddie and Patsy, all is forgiven.
To sum up, then nice try, everyone, but don’t give up your day jobs. As far as the cast goes, I’m tempted to paraphrase what the MGM talent scout said about Fred Astaire at his first audition “can’t act, can’t sing, can dance a little.”
I’d really like to be proven as wrong as he was, so I’m looking forward to Loulabelle’s next production. With a little more wit and sophistication, and a competent dramaturge, this company and this playwright could go far.
Directed by Kathy Burns
Playing Tuesday 25 April at 7.30pm, then Wed–Sat at 7.30pm until 29 April 2006
Duration : 2 hours 15 minutes, with a 15 minute interval