"Pitch Perfect Play Packs Punch"
by Cameron Dunham on 23/02/18

With shows like aerial extravaganza “Becoming Shades” on its roster, this year’s Vaults Festival is literally in full swing. However don’t feel the entertainment is limited to just the plethora of talent in evidence at the home venue of Waterloo’s annual, arty expo. Just one hundred yards away, Network Theatre is making a significant contribution to proceedings and this pacy, punchy production of Michael Ross’ “Work Makes You Free” is most definitely worth seeing.

The play concerns itself with four character monologues that seamlessly connect together to deliver a pleasing narrative arc. We are presented with familiar personae in the guise of a heartless banker, a self centred millennial, a frustrated singer/songwriter and a career driven Tory who is, of course, a closet homosexual. Ross’ clever writing manages to imbue each of these with nuances which elevate them to more than simple stereotypes and much of the fun is derived from watching their lives interlock and impact on each other.

The performances of the four protagonists are pitch perfect. Stafford quickly reveals that MP Adam may not be quite as happy as he seems when he tells us, with a flash of manic stare, about the different forms of suicide he ponders; Emily Bates almost makes us feel sympathy for corporate Jane with her confessions of frustration and suggestions of jealousy; Mirada Evans’ Kirsty is the most redeemable of the bunch with her soul destroying day job and escapist daydreams of playing Glastonbury; Laura Pieters gives seeming snowflake Willow a far tougher and more manipulative outcome and cheerfully lets the audience in on the ironic presentation of the play’s post modern pretensions with the optimistic self-centeredness of a true social media addict. Each performance is so full of energy and intensity that it quickly becomes apparent why director McKendrick has wisely opted for a minimalist set and allowed his cast to do the bulk of the heavy lifting.

That being said, there are some nice touches to this production. Sprinkling in some eighties tunes by the likes of Cabaret Voltaire and Deacon Blue helps to connect the social dysfunction of the current day to that of Thatcherite Britain and Charlotte Gowers’ technical design helps to propel the momentum of the show: over two hundred lighting cues in one hour is nothing short of remarkable. McKendrick deserves credit for keeping the needle resolutely in the red for the entirety of the play’s duration; I’m not quite sure how he has managed to pack so much into such a short space of time.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the play is saved for Miranda Evans’ Kirsty as she laments her failure to make a living as a singer/songwriter and muses on the literal meaning of the word amateur: to do something for the simple love of doing it. As she concludes that this should be satisfying enough but isn’t, we yearn to be paid for doing what we love, the audience is left to consider the satire behind the title of Ross’ play. Whilst it is a literal translation of the chilling banner above Auschwitz, perhaps it has more to say about the importance we place upon employment in the modern world and the varying effects that this can have on an individual’s psyche.

I should point out that this show is selling fast, owing in part to producer Rachel Bothamley’s high profile social media advertising campaign. Don’t miss out on this gem of a show: the Vaults Theatre may have the high wire act of this year’s festival but it’s at Network Theatre that you’ll see four great actors go live without a net in this excellent play.

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