BWW Review: IT WAS EASY (IN THE END) at The Abbey Theatre
A Dystopian Simulation
In this THEATREclub & Abbey co-production, 13 disgruntled millennials are intent on single-handedly annihilating capitalism. The set is the Absent Factory, a dystopian simulation of a Foxconn iPhone factory complete with production line and fuschia-lit control room. A motley crew of random homeless individuals are recruited to participate in a social experiment highlighting the injustices of capitalism. Impersonating Chinese factory workers at the Absent Factory they protest against the inhumane working conditions burning their own phones in defiance. The assembly line becomes a hijacked Speaker's Corner where the evils of capitalism are broadcast.
Foxconn, a Taiwanese multinational, is the world's largest electronics manufacturer. Notorious for its grim working conditions it drew international attention in 2010 with a series of employee suicides at its largest factory in Shenzhen, China. In this production, Foxconn represents evil personified, all that is wrong with capitalism.
A youthful cast, each member playing a bewildering array of characters including THEATREclub members (playing themselves), Foxconn staff & employees, Ophelia Group members (radical feminists/anti-capitalists?), a Hamlet Reading Group (all vying for the role of Ophelia), characters from Hamlet, homeless individuals, community workers, government officials and good old criminals. Too much, I could not keep up!
In this loose interpretation of Hamlet, the Ophelia Group and Hamlet Reading Group both made ad hoc appearances between the soapbox rants. "Tommy who is homeless, playing Hamlet" regaled us with random passionate soliloquies and did indeed go mad. The play within a play I assume were the THEATREclub actors playing homeless people playing Chinese factory workers. And Yorick's skull observed the proceedings atop a locker.
I understand that a me-centric capitalist invites problems and a we-centric capitalist enhances society. I recognise the enthusiasm of the players to shake up our stale thinking but I did not appreciate their haphazard approach. Exploitation & oppression, poverty & homelessness, addiction, racism & sexism, violence and abuse. Are we truly to believe that all the world's current predicaments spawned from this single monster? The loose umbrella assault on the evil repercussions of capitalism left me unconvinced. I welcome healthy debate but would have enjoyed tighter arguments.
In defense of the production, we were forewarned. Commencing with the genial lighting designer (armed with cue cards) who opened the show with a considerate attempt to explain the impending confusion. Alas his 'SparkNotes' did not greatly help me. Notes were absent from the programme - rather we were directed to read them in the Abbey foyer (alas I forgot.) And the unconventional instruction: "You are free to leave and re-enter the auditorium throughout the performance" did not bode well.
My head was spinning leaving the theatre. Perhaps this was the intention all along. I needed an antidote to the chaos, which I found sitting in peace and quiet with a nice cup of tea.