‘Will you swap seats?’
‘What?.. no.. shh..’
‘They’re all looking at me,’
‘There’s a briefcase under my seat, OH GAWD, I’m going to be in the show. This is why we don’t sit in the front row.’
‘They’re still looking. I don’t like this, why didn’t we go see the thing with the nice man wearing antlers?’
Sitting in the audience of Follow Suit is from the outset, a disconcerting experience. As my fearful husband expressed in the above exchange, the rubber faced clowns of Silent Faces stare you down as you take your seats. Instant characters are established, from the nervous cheer of Adam Deane grinning like a call centre intern on his first day prior to being crushed in the wheels of capitalism, to the glare of Jay Wakely that should be available to hire for theatres wishing to discourage latecomers.
Clad in a variety of hilariously ill-fitting suits, Wakely and Dean are joined by Josie Underwood and Cordelia Stevenson behind a shiny desk that could have come from any office in the world. They face a row of lightbulbs that flicker in and out, moments of extinguishing accompanied by pained, barely audible screams from the paper pushers. These screams begin comical, slow motion stretched grimaces – the adrenaline of a rollercoaster ride but over the course of the show become more and more harrowing.
The tiny high-pitch of these screams indicates a release of pressure, of uncontrolled panic and terror that lies just beneath the wipe clean surface of ‘the suits’; the individuals reduced to their clothing. An enacting of a board meeting will strike a keen note with anyone who has had the misfortune to sit in one of those meetings that could have definitely been an email. Reduced to one word apiece (‘right, so, great, ok) the suits talk in concentric circles, the repeated expressions changing and twisting in meaning like slithery insects pinned beneath glass.
Silent Faces have impeccable timing and poise as well as a keen eye for ludicrous. A finance meeting descends into a concerto of chaos: stocks and shares spoken to staccato cadence of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. And who hasn’t wanted to turn all their very-important-economic- documents into paper planes and fling them out of the window? Farewell Student Loan statement, go forth – be free!
But behind this comic look at the ridiculous, constructed world of finance with its weird rituals and rules (what do all those people do behind those many screens? How can the world’s wealth be reduced to values that don’t link to anything tangible?) Follow Suit examines a much darker aspect of the true cost of business. To say more would be too much of a spoiler but safe to say after seeing this show, you won’t look at dry cleaning bags with such ease ever again.
At the close, Silent Faces offer to continue the conversation and answer any questions you might have. It is testament to the unsettling disruptive nature of Follow Suit that I had to fight the urge to dogpile on the performers with a barrage of ‘Is this what it means? Did I get it right?’ I resisted only because of wanting time to ruminate (ok, also having survived his brief audience participation, Ed was bleating for a recovery pint). I wanted time to think about how acts of violence are executed with the swoop of a pen or a click in Excel, how in corporate world brutality can go hand in hand with banality. How frightening it is that in a society obsessed with profit and loss, life has a value that can be entered into a balance sheet.
Follow Suit was performed as part of Vault Festival 2018. Click here for more details.