By Jordi Galceran. Translated by Anne García-Romero and Mark St. Germain.
The corporate world is intimidating and this production does everything it can to put that across. The constant competition makes me very glad that I’m part of the art world (although come to think of it, the arts is pretty much all competition too). Set at the Menier Chocolate Factory which lies a stone’s throw away from the opposing Shard the environment is something very close to home.
The Grönholm Method is set in the corporate office of a Fortune 500 company in New York City. It follows the interviews of four candidates for a highly competitive role within the company. The interview is formulated around the fictitious recruitment technic the Grönholm method which requires a ‘winner takes all’ style competition with the candidate who completes all the tasks and stays in the room supposedly receiving the job. Although it’s not a real technique it’s based upon the research of the writer, Jordi Galceran, who ‘insert quote about writers research’. The play is full of suspicion, manipulation and a few plot twists which are akin to a 1930s murder mystery.
The Grönholm Method only has four characters; three of whom are male. According to the writer, this is a reference to the percentage of women who hold high powered jobs in large corporations. The characters have a brief moment of joking about the fact there is only 1 woman in the group, one suggesting that 25 percent is politically correct. Melanie, the only woman, retorts that actually 50 percent would be politically correct. I enjoy the stab at the corporate worlds lack of diversity, but the way that Galceran tackles this lack of diversity (not just gender diversity) is cringe and offensive as the play develops. The presentation of some interesting issues in an uncommitted way just acts as a revelation for its age, having been written and performed originally 15 years ago.
Disappointingly, there is one character, in particular, that seems to be dealt with in a way of that shows the lack of tolerance 15 years ago and that is Karl. Karl, it is revealed, is transgender and will be undergoing gender reassignment surgery in the near future. Karl is dressed rather crudely in a pink shirt, supposedly suggesting a feminine inclination, as if the cliche of pink meaning ‘female’ wasn’t already worn out. With all the toxic masculinity around the corporate environment must be an intimidating place for a trans person and there could have been an interesting exploration of this experience but unfortunately, Karl seems to solely exist as a shock tactic. The revelation of Karl as a trans person revealed without consent during one of the challenges presented to the group by the omniscient ‘interviewer’. Obviously, Karl is angry, their experience is used as a tactic for determining whether a person should be allowed to get a job as one gender and then six months later become another (as if gender wasn’t a spectrum and performed differently by literally everyone). The characters flippantly toss around offensive slurs and crude jokes about being ‘mutilated’, which horrifically, may well be how a trans person is treated in the corporate sphere but rather than an exploration of this issue, Karl is one manipulation amongst many. Obviously, the essences of the play is that no one is who they say they are, but the aggressively dismissive way that Karl is treated is a too often repeated attitude towards the trans community. In another twist towards the end (spoiler alert), it’s revealed that Karl’s is just pretending to be trans anyway and is, in fact, part of the team of psychologists who are actually the interview panel. The character is literally there to cause a little drama. Another horrible misuse of a trans identity. Yes, everyone in the play is at some point, playing a lie but to me, tossing transphobic slurs at a ‘fake’ trans person being played by a cis male, often being used as a punch line, dismissing them, the complete lack of acceptance is another blow to the trans community who still struggle for visibility and representation. I don’t think the world needs any more transphobia spilling out from a play written in 2003 when people still thought the phrase ‘tranny’ was something comical. Its a bold example of how outdated the play is.
Despite an outdated script, the actors perform well. Aside from a few accent slips that, unfortunately, I find myself looking out for whenever I hear British actors play American characters, they all play their cartoonish characters plausibly enough to make me believe that there are probably (or at least there were 15 years ago) similar people in the corporate world. Frank in particular, played by Jonathan Porter, is a caricature with his arrogance and gross masculinity spilling over at every turn but it’s more than likely that people as misogynistic, homophobic and repulsive exist in their line of work at the moment. It’s not entirely clear why they don’t just use their regular British accent as the play has been performed in 60 countries and is presumably in the language of that country reflecting how people seem to think that it’s got a ‘universal experience’ quality to it. Perhaps the characters work better with an American stereotype and that corporate misogynists in Britain are more polite and reserved… who knows.
Designer (Norris bob) set is what I like most about this production. It’s not complicated or extravagant, it’s very clean cut with white leather chairs, frosted glass doors, bright lighting and obviously the signature panelled wall with a compartment that pops open to give the candidates their challenges via envelope. The back wall is a long, skyscraper style, panel of glass and has the image of a city skyline behind it. As the play progress s the lights in the skyscrapers behind the glass come on, the sky changes colour and darkens and th lights in our candidates room brighten. It’s such a subtle way of revealing time passing we barely notice it until it’s just dark enough that our eyes have to adjust to the change beyond th glass. It really brings a sense of reality to the plays events.
The play has a punchy ending that ties all the lies and manipulation together nicely but I can’t help wonder how it’s still going from 2003. There are so many brilliant and diverse playwrights out there right now, I think this play should be left in 2003 where we can look back and remember how far we’ve come but also how far we have to go with theatrical diversity and representation. Satirically, it may critique a time 15 years ago but I like to think that the world is different now and I hope that the corporate world has changed too.