Review: Try Harder (The Space, online)

Yusuf Niazi’s new play, Try Harder, looks at the workplace and the pressures facing young people who want to get on in life.

It is a surreal and absurd piece where four characters meet and interact on the premise of the first day on a new job, for which no one has been interviewed. It pays well – £200 a day – but no one knows what it is.

Sam (Toby Moran Mylett), Lucy (Tânia Miranda de Carvalho) and Grace (Helen Squires) are the new recruits. Sam is awkward, nervous and “a bit weird”. Lucy seems self-assured and confident, while Grace talks a lot and has a defence shield it is hard to pass.

Joining them is Joe (Darrel Draper), their trainer, whose management style is to shout rather than explain, abuse rather than empower. We have all met a Joe – this one is perhaps caricatured a bit too far, but he is clearly recognisable.

Screencap from Try Harder

In a plot which hints back ever so slightly to Ionescu’s The Chairs (which was a treasure hunt of absurdist proportions), the job turns out to be eight hours a day moving chairs from one end of the room to another.

At first this feels like an expression of individual freedom until rules come into play, and teamwork appears to be the order of the day. It appears complex, yet ultimately pointless. Like a lot of modern jobs, in fact.

Within the largely pointless routine the trio have been set to enact, there are moments of pause for back storytelling, bits of comedy TV spoofs, and speeches which reveal the profound preoccupations of the three would-be workers.

There’s a lot to take in. Money, of course, and the issues millennials face. Sexuality, and toxic families. Workplace mores, and the way power is often misused. Films, games, and popular culture. How we all seek to make friends, but have a competitive streak to get ahead.

Screencap from Try Harder

Grace is the prickly one in this group of three: the most individual, but the most desperate to keep the job. Sam proves to be the peacemaker, but as in life, Try Harder gives him an unfair advantage. And Lucy is intelligent enough to understand what life might throw at her.

Joe parrots the organisational line, “move the chairs like you were doing before, but better”, but as time goes on he seems to slow down and stop believing it.

One bizarre routine sees him assuming a disguise while the workers toil, but the significance of it passed me by, and I just felt he was trapped in a situation of his own making.

Screencap from Try Harder

There are moments in Try Harder which are uncomfortable – the abuse, the stalker behaviour Sam sometimes exhibits, Grace’s constant use of vulgar language which becomes a turn-off – but the performances are all strong, the direction and movement is excellent, and the segues into almost vaudevillian set pieces are well constructed.

A sharp satire on modern life and our expectations of it / its expectations of us, Try Harder is sometimes a little too clever for its own good but hits home with some strong script lines and commentary on 21st century existence.

Try Harder has two final performances today, 8 April, at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Book at The Space’s website.

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Try Harder.

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