Thursday 11th August 2022 at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham.
Reviewer: Emma Dorfman
Through Try Harder, Pursued by a Dragon Theatre Company and Yusuf Niazi have fully embraced the absurdity and black humour that engulfs today’s Cost of Living crisis. While, at moments, it seems that Niazi has not quite yet mastered a balance between humour, absurdism, and tragedy, this piece nonetheless presents a promising start. The play follows Lucy (Cléo Roggenhofer), Sam (Toby Moran Mylett), and Grace (Helen Squires), who show up for a job training for a position they know nothing about, but at least they get paid well. Throughout their training, they are berated by their manager, Joe (Darrel Draper), who consistently claims they aren’t good enough, and yet, fails to offer support or assistance when asked.
As the characters begin to make sense of what they could possibly be doing in this ‘secret’ position, they share a few moments in which comedy and tragedy fail to meet, and fully embrace one another. While this was a hit among audience members (which makes sense given the British people and their universal love for self-deprecating humour), at times, it was almost grating. Often, other characters’ personalities or surface-level quirks are used as punchlines. This makes for a very cringeworthy atmosphere, for there is truly no reason these three characters would stay in a room together other than the fact that they must work together to get paid.
Another device that is equally cringeworthy, yet effective for the play’s message, is the use of comedic, skit-like interludes to introduce each character. One image that sticks out, and is a nod to Niazi’s tight, skillful direction, comes during Lucy’s skit. As she struggles to balance work (less than London Living Wage at Primark), studies, and paying the rent, the characters, paired with clearly labeled placards, transform themselves into these intangible obstacles.
And perhaps this is the image that remains because this is the idea at the very centre of this piece. In today’s world, you can do everything ‘right’ (going off to university, getting a job, attempting to be a productive member of society), and still, everything and everyone is going to tell you that you’re just doing it all wrong. Joe serves as a microcosm for this larger societal pressure, and perhaps there is more to be explored here in terms of how this wildly funny, absurd, ‘small’ situation can apply to an enormous, almost unnamable enemy.
Try Harder plays the Omnibus Theatre until August 20th 2022 – you can find your tickets here.