Contractions is a very important play. Focusing on issues of privacy and surveillance, it places a magnifying glass over the relationship between employers and their employees. The increasingly intrusive nature of big corporations is explored through a series of conversation between a young, and perhaps naïve worker named Emma and the ominous figure of the Manager. Directed by Lisa Friedrich and coming to the Burton Taylor next week, I was lucky enough to catch some scenes in rehearsals.
Watching the first scene of the play, in which the Manager brings Emma into her office to discuss a particular clause in her contract, I was immediately impressed by the talent of the two actors. Cat White was the perfect Manager. Capturing the understated malice of this authoritative figure, I expect White’s performance will leave many audience members chilled to the bone. At the same time, Sophie Stiewe, who plays Emma, did a great job in conveying the discomfort of her character in this situation and I felt a great deal of sympathy for this young employee. As the Manager continued to question Emma, using increasingly passive aggressive tactics, the intensity of the scene began to grow effectively.
The play is indeed suggestive of a possible Orwellian situation in which employees lose more and more control of their own lives: a harrowing thought.
This intensity is a trend of the play’s progression. There are many more encounters between the Manager and Emma, with the Manager becoming increasingly intrusive and Emma becoming increasingly distressed. Emma begins a relationship with one of her colleagues and it is at this point that the audience will truly begin to see the disturbing and invasive intentions of the company she works for. Without wanting to spoil any parts of the play I can guarantee that there will be some heart-wrenching moments as Emma struggles to keep a hold on her personal life in face of the interference of the big corporation that she works for.
I am intrigued by this play; chatting to Friedrich, she describes the play as a commentary on working life, with perhaps a few exaggerations. The play is indeed suggestive of a possible Orwellian situation in which employees lose more and more control of their own lives: a harrowing thought. What also comes out in Contractions is a consideration of women’s experiences in the work place and the specific issues they might face. This feels like a very relevant conversation to be having in a society where women are faced with all kinds of challenges in the work place, from everyday sexism to often having their opportunities for advancement limited. Considering the prominence of women’s issues, the dynamic between the Manager and Emma is a particularly interesting one. You might expect the Manager to have a degree of sympathy with Emma; however, this could not be further from the case. This brings up questions of female solidarity, particularly within the context of the work place, and contributes further to the play’s pertinence.
I would without a doubt say that Contractions is a play you should watch if you can. Not only do I think that it will be an intense and poignant production, with an immensely talented cast, it also draws attention to the pressing issues that employees, and women in particular, now face in the work place.