Wrath – Liam Maguire and the absurd corporate now. (Theater Review)
Jackrabbit Theatre at KXT.
8-22 March. You can grab your tickets here.
Images: Clare Hawley
Surely questioning our attitude to business and our relationship to business culture is one of the imperatives of our age? Even if we do so in full support of the capitalist machine, it is still good practice to examine and refine our approach to corporate life? For Liam Maguire, this imperative becomes levy as he witnesses satellite industries like Theatre take on procedures and practices nascent to business without examining cultural impact. Inside this inquiry, the writer produces Wrath, a play examining how power and influence become daily tools used to strip compliant folk of dignity, and indeed, the ability to rebel.
Once we begin to question, we are forced to see.
In the hands of Liam Maguire and his play Wrath, our contemporary business culture is one of those unexamined institutions that fulfils on the need for a post-Christian (and intellectually authoritative) set of objective beliefs and normative practices. For this writer, the absurdity and bullying that is taken for climbing the ladder to success is a gravely diseased set of practices we adhere to without much thought or without much ability to question. Perhaps then, Nietzsche is correct, when he suggests, if we are to kill God off, but retain his morals, we will erect our own (new) legitimisations by manipulating self-identities? Business, politics or the State will fill the role left by the church. We do not all obey our abusive superior at work because they deserve or earn our veneration. We perform this (and other rituals) more in blind faith, attaching ourselves to obedience for the sake of the culture. This is precisely what occurs in Liam Maguire’s play Wrath. Ms Stockwood (Madeline Vizard) can expect loyalty from her inferiors and is expected to treat them with acceptable cultural contempt. Not on behalf of her superiority, but on behalf of retaining a hierarchy and belief in a system that will care for those who bend to its ways. It’s an initiation rite, similar to the harsh world of the novice entering the priesthood. It is precisely the absurdity (the complexity of its processes and its difficult initiation rites) that gives more authenticity to those able to run its gauntlet.
In this way, the horror and stupidity, misery and hysteria we see in Wrath reflect actual practices in the corporate world. What is shocking is not that Henry (Adam Sollis) might object to the treatment, but that he will accept it first. Yet, this is a process we (the audience) understand intuitively and at that level we accept it. Like many philosophers and writers before him, Liam Maguire offers no solution, other than to rebel, which is in itself acceptance. In this way absurdity and nihilism are the cardinal themes of the play. As we see in Wrath (and in broader themes, politics and institutions) when metaphysics is devalued, ideologies obsessed with history and force take over. Absurdity reigns when questionable laws are delivered by fools on behalf of nothing, or worse, a moral principle that originally existed to preserve the deity, but has been transmuted: such as have no other gods before me. In corporate culture, this is reinterpreted as loyalty and being ‘hard’ on behalf of the project. It is accepted by those of us bending to a collective will on behalf of an ephemeral ‘greater good.’
Liam Maguire calls these ideas forth powerfully in Wrath, a play that is funny and shocking at the same time. We sit in a gorgeously red and black set in which the workers are caught by the daily grind. Absurdity reaches its zenith when morality (literally) traps them in a room (ah la Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel) and we become witness to a fully blown and complete manifestation of absurdity similar to The Mighty Boosh. Liam Maguire riffs of many well-worn tropes, playing complete homage to all that is familiar with a contemporary evocation of The Absurd. We the audience are properly led to a realisation where absurdity and comfortable corporate process are natural bedfellows.
Besides writing Wrath, Liam Maguire directs (capably assisted by Andreas Lohmeyer) this enthusiastic cast, perfectly at home in the intimate (and chic) Kings Cross Theatre. Madeleine Vizard holds the play aloft as the ridiculously calculating superior, constantly testing her subordinates, yet losing it to the abject weirdness of the scenario. Her smarmy, soul sucking subordinates played brilliantly by Elle Mickel, Jonny Hawkins and Amy Hack are the perfect mix of comedy and horror as their ridiculous destinies are played out before us. Stand out performances of Adam Sollis as Henry and Emma Harvie as the put-upon secretary offer The Real posited against the absurd, yet it is the comic timing in each of these performers that brings running gags and astute observations to their light and witty outcome.
The striking lighting design of John Callopy and the evocative powerhouse sound design of Sam Maguire call forth a Peter Greenaway vibe that is most welcome on the stage in Sydney, as subtlety is in vogue at the moment, and it’s always a thrilling surprise to see drama inside drama – especially when dealing with the absurd.
This manifestation of Wrath is a production alive with a youthful observational quality endemic to Jackrabbit Theatre and all that they represent to the Sydney theatre scene. It’s fast, its loud and its exciting, playing heavily to the ephemeral nature of theatre that is so specific to this artform now. The small and witty observational nods toward theatre itself will delight young audiences fresh from drama school, and excite and stimulate those of us seeking to be bolstered by the hopeful and promising spirit of youth. Wrath promises a great mini season for the KXT under the confident and exuberant direction of Jackrabbit Theatre. We look forward to the next few weeks!