The Pulverised review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘keenly observed’
Dakar: a call centre team leader reluctantly boards the bus to work. Lyon: a quality assurance manager returns home after days of intercontinental travel. Bucharest: a research and development manager spies on her babysitter over webcam. Shanghai: a factory worker desperately needs a pee break.
They’re all trapped in a world inspired by the deplorable working conditions at manufacturing giant Foxconn – who produce Apple’s iPhone – a world where lives matter only if targets are met.
Playwright Alexandra Badea tries her best to humanise each worker’s drone-like existence in a globalised, capitalist world. Some of her observations are keenly drawn, from career burnout to white saviour guilt.
The cast, directed with precision by Alex Sava, are confident and engaging, particularly Solomon Israel as the Senegalese call centre manager who’s both messianic and misogynistic.
But some of the other characters don’t rise above their job description: the factory worker is a conduit for those around her rather than her own person – though this is no fault of Rebecca Boey, who gives a heartfelt turn as a teen forced into a dead end job.
Badea tries to leaven her didacticism with humour even as the world she’s built careens to certain doom. There’s a gloom to the set as well, with its mounds of gravel and broken office equipment.
This despair doesn’t cut deep enough to nudge the audience from sympathy to empathy, but she captures some a sense of detachment – as we take our front row seats to watch the world burn.