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BWW Review: GOODNIGHT POLLY JONES, Theatre N16, February 3 2016

Polly works in the warehouse at Easy Foods and enjoys the banter with the girls but goes a bit too far when she teases an older male worker and he complains to management. Far from showing contrition, she flirts right through her informal interview with Peter, her personnel manager. And, when he shows her just enough attention as a woman (rather than as an employee), he piques her interest still further. The boundary between work life and social life erodes altogether on a residential course, when a karaoke evening leads to an alcohol-fuelled night that has life-changing consequences for both of them.

We meet Polly and Peter some four years later, with Peter bumped down to the shopfloor and Polly now a qualified accountant acting for the liquidators with the responsibility to decide who stays and who goes from the now bust firm. Each needs something from the other to move on, but each carries so much baggage that even one step forward or back may smash the fragile compromises they have made to deal with that night's events.

Presented all-through in an intense 60 minutes or so, Goodnight Polly Jones (at Theatre N16 until 11 February) is a rare beast in London Theatre - a play set in today's world, dealing with today's issues with characters behaving like real people. That's no surprise really since writer Andrew Sharpe draws on his years as a solicitor to identify the subjects he wishes to explore. He is served well by Ben Keenan, who brings the stage presence and charisma of a stand-up comedian to Peter, making him a man who has done something evil rather than an evil man. Victoria Morrison delivers Polly's transformation (growing up ten years in four) with beautiful attention to detail - the look, the walk, the sexiness turned back from coquettishly boiling over to confidently simmering. Director Lana McIver uses the intimate space well, the different ways in which each character dominates it telling the story as much as the script, successfully sidestepping the temptation to crank up the exposition at the cost of characterisation.

How to educate young people about consent is a growing issue in UK and US universities with seemingly straightforward "rules" butting up against the messiness of young people's lives as they explore their emerging social and sexual identities. There may be no "blurred lines" about consent, but it arises in so many different ways that simply stating that fact is not sufficient to close the matter - and it's right and proper for theatre to address it.

There are some old power relations in play too - men and women may be equal in law and, to some extent, more equal in society then ever, but the workplace (and hence the workplace residential training weekend) is still more likely to be populated by older male senior managers and younger female shopfloor workers than any other gender / hierarchy mix. That's a jungle that needs careful navigating to come through entirely unscathed.

This important and thought-provoking play is enough to jar the most complacent manager out of his or her comfort zone in the workplace - because this stuff is probably going on somewhere quite close by right now.


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From This Author Gary Naylor