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Happy to Help at the Park Theatre, London – ‘underpowered satire’

Ben Mann and Katherine Kotz in Happy to Help at Park Theatre, London. Photo: David Monteith

In Michael Ross’ new play, Happy to a Help, a supermarket executive goes undercover as a shelf-stacker. He discovers that the store manager is nasty to her staff and that the staff grumble about the manager. It’s not until the very final scenes that a a deus ex machina – in the form of the big corporate boss and the revelation of a hitherto unhinted-at secret – that we get anything resembling a plot.

Until this point, and after some easy satirical jabs at the evils of big supermarket chains, the play consists largely of scene after scene of the store manager being enthusiastically and inventively, if seemingly gratuitously, sadistic toward anyone who comes her way.

Katherine Kotz invests the woman with a demonic energy that gives the body of the play a degree of forward movement. We may not understand why the woman does any of what she does, but our attention is at least held by the intensity with which she does it.

Charles Armstrong, as the undercover boss, has little to do but stand around looking stunned and perplexed by what he observes, and Ben Mason is forced to make too abrupt a change as the staff rebel who somehow becomes the boss’ protege.

These snapshots of corporate nastiness seem random and purposeless and Roxy Cook’s production suffers from the fact that, what sense of motivation there is, comes far too late to give meaning to what has gone on before.

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Underpowered and purposeless satire set in a supermarket