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Contractions review at the New Diorama, London – ‘nerve-wrenching’

Fifi Garfield and Abigail Poulton in Contractions at New Diorama, London. Photo: Becky Bailey Fifi Garfield and Abigail Poulton in Contractions at New Diorama, London. Photo: Becky Bailey
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Contractions is like a site-specific episode of Black Mirror. Emma (Abigail Poulton), a chirpy, cheery salesman at an unnamed international company, is swept up in an office romance with co-worker Darren, a liaison she’s contractually obliged to inform her manager (Fifi Garfield) about – and that’s not all she’s got to do, if she wants to keep her job.

Mike Bartlett’s blackly satirical 2008 play, adapted here for deaf and hearing audiences and performed on a cavernous disused trading floor in Euston, spirals slowly out of control like some absurdist, Orwellian nightmare.

As Emma and Darren’s relationship intensifies, so too does her manager’s behaviour. Emma and Darren have sex. Her manager wants to know how often. Emma gets pregnant. Her manager relocates Darren to Kiev. Emma’s child dies. Her manager wants proof.

The beauty of Bartlett’s play is its simplicity. It’s just a series of hypnotically rhythmic, increasingly horrific conversations between Emma and her manager, but Bartlett manages to spin this into a deeply affecting psychological thriller, a pitch-black comedy, and a bleak comment – even more relevant today than it was nine years ago – on an employment culture whose compassion extends as far its profit margin.

Paula Garfield’s 75-minute staging – a co-production between Deafinitely Theatre and the New Diorama – is entirely accessible too, with Poulton’s increasingly disturbed Emma, and Garfield’s superbly clinical, entirely silent manager both signing throughout. That none of its neat plotting or nerve-wrenching power is lost in translation is testament to just how adept Garfield and her company have become.

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Deafinitely Theatre's accessible adaptation of Mike Bartlett's 2008 drama is a short, slick, Orwellian nightmare