Office Workers Get Violent in Blam!

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Kristján Ingimarsson//Neander, Blam!: Sadler’s Wells (Peacock Theatre), London, 24.10.2013 (JO’D)

Kristján Ingimarsson, Lars Gregersen, Didier Oberle, Janus Elsig with Kasper Ravnhøj, Joen Højerslev, Eos Karlsson

Producers: Glynis Henderson Productions and Kristján Ingimarsson//Neander
Created by: Kristján Ingimarsson//Neander
Co-Director: Simon K. Boberg
Written by: Kristján Ingimarsson, Jesper Pedersen
Set designer: Kristian Knudsen
Lighting Designer: Lee Curran
Sound Designer: Svend E Kristensen
Costume Designer: Hanne Mørup
For Neander: Gitte Nielson
Stage Manager: Mette Hornbek Hansen
Sound & Lighting Technician: Karl Sørensen
Production Manager: Brendan McEvoy

Blam! is a Jekyll-and-Hyde of a show. As Jekyll, it is a highly amusing and often painfully accurate study of the group dynamics of four men in an open-plan office. It is also an inventive piece of physical theatre that finds new uses for desks, partitions, swivel chairs, and almost everything that comes from the stationery cupboard. There is slapstick and acrobatics. There are circus stunts (fluorescent lighting becomes a trapeze). With the ease and imagination of Charlie Chaplin or Gene Kelly, its four performers make any object that comes to hand fit their purposes. They do this in the character of the office ‘type’ that each one sketches out in fine detail, and in silence, during the opening minutes: the insecure middle manager; the charismatic leader of the other three employees; his post-it obsessed follower; his strong, always affable but always self-contained accomplice. (The only thing that’s missing is that none of them jangles his keys.) It is because they keep to these characters throughout that each of their actions, however surreal, has such comic effect.

As Hyde (and the lighting tells you when the change is about to come on), Blam! erupts into scenes of what the Peacock Theatre’s website calls ‘simulated violence’ but what would perhaps be better described as sustained and oddly sexualized, simulated violence. ‘Blam!’ is not, I think, a word that (in English, at least) brings violence immediately to mind. It is not ‘Biff!’, or ‘Kapow!’ (or even ‘Splat!’). Words such as these would have given a more accurate idea of the show’s content, although the cartoon violence they suggest is mild by comparison. As they work their way through parodies of every ‘male’ cinematic genre, the performers carry out ever more sadistic acts of this ‘simulated’ violence. Yet most of the people in the audience cheered and clapped and laughed as if they were at a pantomime. The programme, too, says: ‘Fresh from a great critical and audience reception in Edinburgh.’ So, what do I know?

I do know I thought it a pity that such theatrical and circus talent should be used on such material. The audience was just as interested in, just as amused by, the calmer, gentler, more subtle moments: the waltz with the water cooler, a game of cards that is suddenly seen from overhead (like a ‘cut’ in film), the trolley that becomes a boat in a jungle represented by a single potted plant. The creators of Blam! seem equally keen on its ‘Hyde’ aspect, and on moving relentlessly forwards to the weird male bonding of its glam-rock finale. This was greeted by even wilder cheering, and by standing ovations. The show will almost definitely have ‘great audience reception’ in London, too, then. But coming out into the street at a quarter past nine, I was glad to find myself among crowds of people who were walking to the Tube from restaurants or pubs where they had spent a different sort of evening from the one I’d had, with friends, or perhaps colleagues, from the office.

John O’Dwyer