Deafinitely Theatre’s production of Mike Bartlett’s Contractions is its first revival in London since its debut at the Royal Court Theatre in 2008. This new take on it creates a bi-lingual version accessible to both BSL users and hearing English speakers. It is staged in an old trading office and has only two characters – the manager (Fifi Garfield) who uses BSL throughout, and Emma (Abigail Poulton) who uses spoken English and BSL in tandem.
The play begins with Emma being called in to discuss with her manager the company’s policies on romantic activities between employees. Emma denies that she is having any such relations with any of her colleagues but her manager does not seem to believe her. After several meetings of a similar ilk Emma reveals that she has begun a relationship with someone in the office, Darren. There follows an uncomfortable scene in which she is asked how good the sex is and how long she imagines it will be until they break up. Things escalate when Emma becomes pregnant and Darren is sent to an office far away. When Emma realises the seriousness with which her manager takes the situation she suggests leaving, to which the response is that she would not find another job – with the job market as it is there are a hundred applicants for every job. Feeling trapped, Emma is forced to undergo ever more intrusive meetings and comply to increasingly unreasonable demands while her manager remains steely faced and unresponsive to any distress.
The story may take the scenario to unrealistic extremes but it makes a valid point about the impact of work on your personal life, and the point at which you should draw the line. It feels a judgment on corporations who care nothing for their employees beyond their ability to make the company money. They would rather have broken individuals, who become almost robotic, than care for and nurture their employees who they consider to be replaceable.
Garfield and Poulton do a sterling job. The audience is led to feel genuine anger and frustration at the manager as she doesn’t flinch once, intimidating and seemingly annoyed at all times. Poulton does an excellent job portraying the increasing desperation of Emma as her manager systematically strips the joy from her life. It is difficult to watch for its intensity, but it is this power that makes it worth watching.