The Gronholm Method review at Menier Chocolate Factory, London – ‘slight and slack’
Four job applicants enter a room. They been called there for the final phase of a job interview for a high-level sales role at a major US firm. How far will they go to land this job?
Their prospective employers have set a series of tests that seem designed to explore their capacity for empathy, or otherwise. A drawer in the office wall pops open at intervals. It contains a series of envelopes. These contain challenges, sometimes aimed at all four of them, sometimes for them individually. It’s a bit like The Apprentice crossed with The Crystal Maze – if they leave the room at any time, it’s game over.
This 2003 play by Catalan playwright Jordi Galceran, receiving its UK premiere, takes existing psychometric testing methods and exaggerates them, as the company employs the (made-up) Gronholm method to see what each candidate is truly made of.
Jonathan Cake, who also starred in director BT McNicholl’s 2012 production of the play at Burbank’s Falcon Theatre, plays Frank, an obnoxious, sneering “blowhard.” John Gordon Sinclair and Greg McHugh play the other applicants, while Laura Pitt-Pulford, the only female candidate of the four, tries to play down the fact that a family crisis is taking place while she’s stuck in this room.
It’s a twisty play, or at least intended to be, but some of the plot swerves feel laboured. The production lacks the emotional intensity of Mike Bartlett’s workplace plays or the relentlessness of David Fincher’s The Game, which it resembles on some level. The sense of not being able to trust any of the characters could be unsettling, but this feels more like an intellectual exercise than anything. It has that quality of distance that characterises some European plays – more of an elegant puzzle than a plunge into the darker areas of the human psyche.
The play feels a little dusty in other ways. The revelations that one applicant slept with an intern, or that another may be transgender are used mainly as a source of humour, rather than as a way of lacerating American corporate culture.
Cake gives a performance of believable hatefulness and, as is so often the case, the versatile Pitt-Pulford does the most with limited material. But none of the characters ever amounts to more than a stereotype.
Tim Hatley’s sleek set, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and view of the city, is effective, particularly when the skyline lights up as night falls. But the play itself feels slight and slack, and neither the potential comedy nor tension of the situation is exploited to its fullest. Its satire feels timid given the reality we now inhabit.