It is unusual to watch a new play that speaks so boldy about the state of humanity and the experience of being alive today. But Alexandra Badea’s ‘The Pulverised’, translated from the French original by Lucy Phelps, is a bold play in many ways.

Studio 2 at ‘The Arcola’ is pre-set with the four bodies of the cast lying prone across mounds of volcanic black rock. Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s design is instantly transporting. It’s an apocalyptic scene with deep industrial sounds pulsating through the space, factory parts and office fragments dangling from the ceiling and erupting from the ground.

Written in the present tense, with poetic interlocking monologues interspersed with ‘imagined’ dialogue’, the four characters rise from the ground to speak and then judder back into silence. Richard Corgan plays a Quality Assurance of subcontractors Manager from Lyon who is ‘lost again in an unknown timezone’ on his rounds of the factories. Solomon Isreal plays a Call Centre Team Leader in Dakar, listening to rousing Christian sermons on his ipod before lecturing the team on speaking French, having French names and eating French food at the same time as the French (it’s a marketing technique). High powered working mother (Kate Miles) is terrified of failure as she watches her daughter at home through a webcam and Rebecca Boey plays a young Factory worker in Shanghai who is in love with another worker until tragedy strikes when he ‘drops the ball…’ She is the only truly ‘innocent’ character amongst them yet all four manage to retain our sympathy. Not an easy feat in the case of the Quality assurance contractor with his nauseating sentimentality and deliberate blindness over the factory workers conditions, ‘You don’t want to upset your digestion by feeling guilty’.

Andy Sava’s direction is clean and specific, the characters both entirely recognisable and part of an anonymous, generalised mass. The affect is a slow loss of individuality as over the 90 minutes we are sucked into this alternative yet very familiar universe and the characters mould into one as the powerful themes crystalize. Guilt, fear and moments of happiness weave their way through all four lives but in the end there is so much they need to forget in order to survive.

Though the context is unwaveringly modern and the characters clearly drawn, from the timeless space and apocalyptic setting a single voice of humanity emerges clearly. For some it may feel bleak, for others it just feels true.
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