It gives us our smartphones, our computers and our dirt-cheap t-shirts, but what’s the real price of globalisation? Everything has a unit cost, but what about a human cost? The Pulverised is an award-winning new play, in translation from the original French, that takes us to four corners of the globe to find out.
Four bodies are strewn amongst industrial rubble. As they emerge and awaken, we learn of their lives, their loves and – uniting them together – their labour. A quality assurance officer from France tries to remember where he’s been flown to this time. A call centre manager from Senegal misses his bus to work. A Chinese factory worker is awoken in her dorm. An engineer from Romania multitasks motherhood with the biggest meeting of her career. The stories progress through interwoven monologues that expose the unrelenting unfairness of big business – losing a morning’s pay for being just a few minutes late, disguising exploitative working hours with duplicate ID cards.
The characters presented are not humans but workers. Their function as such is so strong that their lives outside work are minimal, incidental, transactional: paying for prostitutes, flirting online, live-streaming an empty living room. It is a bleak, unforgiving and unappetising vision of the world. It’s the vision of the world that none of us want to see – perhaps because its so truthful.
The play is well-written, well-constructed and particularly well-observed. Each character gives us fresh and insightful detail into their life whilst the story continues forwards at a comfortable place. The voices feel unique and relatable, their existential crises speaking to our ‘worst day’ inner voice.
Lucy Phelps’ translation is strong, colourful and flexible: whilst the characters’ lives may be stilted and jarring, the text is not. Characters are tangentially connected through a series of multinationals and their deals but technically there is nothing specific that means these companies have to be the same. Badea reminds us that both everything and nothing is connected. That individual human life means both everything and nothing.
Sava creates a distinctive and physical production that sees actors collapsing into and resurfacing from an industrial wasteland. Text is broken up by series of repetitive, juddering movements replicating the routine machinations of characters’ lives. This aesthetic is strong but feels a little uneven. It does serve to break up the Badea’s heavy and lengthy script however, which, whilst compelling, runs about twenty minutes too long.
The cast is strong and work well as an ensemble, flourishing in the additional often humorous cameos. Richard Corgan and Kate Miles are utterly convincing in their middle-class humdrum despair. Solomon Israel brings a commanding vivacity to proceedings.
They perform upon a mound of rubber tyre chips, scattered with smashed up electronic devices. A grey faux-concrete back wall is cracked and actors symbolically rip portions from it. This, like having the actors collapse after their lines, works better in theory than in practice.
The whole effect is of something a little laboured. Circuit boards and chunks of wall hang unnecessarily from the ceiling. Costumes, also by designer Nicolai Hart-Hansen, give the perfect air of bland put togetherness. Outfit and wearer alike are carbon copies, the value version of the life they were sold.
The performance is given some much-needed variety by Ashley Ogden’s fast, flickering projections that, in only a few seconds, illuminate the diverse, crumbling and automated machine we live on. Sound and lighting are effective, if a little underused.
The Pulverised is passionate and thought-provoking. It seeks to speak urgently about the world we live in and the mess we’ve made of it. It is, unsurprisingly, a little turgid and more than a little depressing. Each of the characters ends the play in a worse place than they began. There seems – for Badea and her characters at least – to be no exit. See it – but perhaps grab a bottle of red in the bar after to decompress.