Review: Calling for Help! @ Midlands Arts Centre

Calling For Help! is a new drama set in the busy, claustrophobic, increasingly pressured environment of a call centre and describes the toll this takes on its employees.

Focusing beguilingly on its heartlessly exploited telesales workers it depicts the human cost of this inhuman form of selling.

Calling for Help!

Calling for Help!

Although the work itself is all about communication, albeit electronically and at a distance, the play highlights exactly how the monotony of the work with its set introductory spiels, predetermined actions and repetitive responses becomes personally alienating. Add in the constantly ratcheted up demands for results and the whole process becomes degradingly inhuman to the point where individual personalities are eroded into insignificance.

And yet this is still very much a play about people. Because while half the play’s set in the frantic atmosphere of the pressured call centre, a simple reversal of the sets allows us to see them trying to have home lives as well, in the gaps left between work. Plus an extra dimension makes the drama interactive, meaning there’s plenty of audience participation effortlessly orchestrated in role by the players themselves.

Caroline Nash as Rachel the call centre team leader plays a blinder here. By day she is the supervisor whom nothing phases while demands on getting results are insidiously racheted up, but poignantly we see too that she has a home life and a family role as mum and grandmother.

Oli Leonard as her son-in-law gives a complex portrayal here of a young man struggling good-humouredly to stay sane as his job becomes increasingly difficult to deliver while juggling the demands of family life.

These characters are real people who effortlessly get us on side thanks to the artfulness of writers Liz John and Julia Wright and the actors’ superbly skilful playing under the beautifully subtle direction of Jonathan Legg.

Recognisably televisual in its episodic style, Calling For Help! is told in series of short scenes cutting between home and work but with an extra quality. This is comedy with a social conscience, taking a look at the reality of what soul-destroying work some people have to do to make a living. Yet these same people still manage to have loves, friendships, loyalties, dreams, even children, and that has the breath of real life in it. It’s truly refreshing to see a new play with this much promise.

More please, more.

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