Review: The Boss of It All, by Lars Von Triers, at the Soho theatre

rom left: James Rigby, Tom McHugh, Gerry Howell, Ross Armstrong. Photo Pamela Raith

From left: James Rigby, Tom McHugh, Gerry Howell, Ross Armstrong. Photo Pamela Raith

The IT crowd isn’t unfamiliar with comedy. I am not referring to the Channel 4 sitcom but all the IT people who labour on things nobody understands. You need to have a sense of humour. I should know. I work on IT.

Now we have a danish comedy (originally a film written and directed by Lars Von Triers, now a play by New Perspectives) set in an IT company.  An actor is dropped in the middle of it. His determination to inhabit the character pierces passive-aggressive politics and office dynamics in unpredictable ways. The rules get changed by someone who doesn’t understand the rules. It’s thinking “out of the box” and then some.

Is it funny? Yes, some times goofily, some times explosively, some times cuttingly. Anyone who has worked in an office will recognise the habitat and anyone who has worked with artists will recognise the symptoms. Two worlds collide, play rock paper scissors and art wins. Every time.

Lars Von Triers has scratched the surface just enough for the absurdities to bleed out. The script was written in 2006, which means it has an innocent voice when it comes to the proliferation of information. Few things have changed and yet so many. Other quirks are fortuitous but are dealt with great invention by director Jack McNamara (who also adapted the script) and cast: a character from Iceland requires an interpreter to translate icelandic to danish and vice versa. As the whole script is in english, sentences are repeated with slight – but crucial – changes. It’s comedy of the absurd and the abstract.

The actors work brilliantly together: Gerry Howell plays the thesp at the centre of it all, meek and inept without his art, a formidable leader in a world of smoke and mirrors. Ross Armstrong is the second in command, who can make difficult decisions as long as no one knows about it. Anna Bolton is the person who wants to take care of others, Kate Kordel is tough but fundamentally clueless. Tom McHugh is brilliant in the dual role of sweet Nalle and the icelandic corporate buyer who seethes with rage about anything danish. (In fact, for some of the performance, I hadn’t realised it was the same actor and I was sitting on front row). James Rigby also excels in the dual role of the long-suffering interpreter and an employee with anger management issues.

It’s a sharp comedy about IT. And actors. And outsourcing responsibility.

At the Soho theatre till 27 July, running time: 75 minutes

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