Failure Studies

The King’s Arms, Salford; Sunday 12th September, 2021

Mark (David Allen) is the boss from hell. There are two major problems with him:

  1. He’s an arsehole;
  2. He loves failure.

He just loves it, so much so he’s turned his personal fetish for failure into a business: some kind of publishing house, a sick-minded journal of non-fulfillment – if you have a proposal / theory / idea on what failure is and how it can be defined, and perhaps even glorified, Mark is the kind of failure-loving arsehole who would definitely want to hear from you.

Not surprisingly, the Failure Studies building doesn’t seem to be a particularly pleasant working environment. The office is a mess, literally, as well as behaviourally, managerially, operationally, etc.

Joining Mark among the hundreds of scraps of paper that are strewn all over the floor are his maligned fellow editor Babe (Francesca Maria Izzo) and the perplexingly unbalanced mystery that is office intern Georgie (Luke Richards).

Whilst it all starts amusingly enough, the noxious arrogance of Mark soon grows to become more than a little sinister and unpalatable. Poor old Georgie gets bullied and humiliated. And soon that maltreatment gets dished out to his supposed equal, Babe, the fellow editor who he clearly cannot function without, and who he seems to have named in the most patronising possible way.

This man’s arsholeism seems to know no bounds, which of course makes for a delicious and irritatingly delightful spectacle on stage.

And that spectacle is made even more intriguing by a delivery which does more than just unroll a simple, linear plot line to follow. From the beginning, the show is devilishly abstract and scattily absurd, all of which serves to add a mischievous air of intrigue – in many ways this helps to soothe the simmering discomfort being distilled by the portrayed injustices.

As the show heads towards an uncertain finale, what began with abstract absurdism eventually rolls over into enigmatic fantasy. It ~kind of~ flows together, but at the same time it doesn’t quite feel like a natural conclusion – the presence of such bold and impressive theatrical characterisations on stage feels like it needs a more emphatic conclusion, story-wise.

But that’s a minor quibble, overall the show manifests itself as an beguiling and novel theatrical proposition. Failure Studies is a clever little fringey concept, perhaps a tiny bit too long at 90 minutes, a slight trimming might intensify and concentrate the bewildering logical confusion that was otherwise building slowly.

But it’s certainly not a failure, far from it – this is a brilliantly acted piece devised from a novel concept that, as a whole, feels as if it is ready to immediately hit a much bigger stage.

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