With the houselights still up in the C-Venues’ studio theatre, a playful party music starts, and two men in suits appear, chatting away in their native Japanese (I’m guessing. I don’t speak the language at any rate). They bow and hand out business cards, and suddenly I’m surprised into laughter, realising that one of them is perched upon a unicycle. As two more company members make a boisterous appearance among the audience and find their way to the stage, we are well warmed up and ready to be entertained by Cheeky*Park‘s Company Man.
I’m slightly disappointed as they launch into a ‘marching-around-the-stage-with-briefcases’ cliché, but this becomes more fun as it converts into a chorus line and, in this world where music leads the onstage fantasy, the soundtrack enhances a classical broadway or film musical stylisation, including numbers such as Leroy Anderson‘s ‘Typewriter Song’. A wall clock and ‘Get Rich Quick’ slogan of the month appear, as we watch a group of business people crowding onto the train, and running through their daily grind of a day at the office in synchronised gestural sequences and comic tableaux.
This opening set up, and similar transitional sequences, drag on a little too long, and some great moments of absurd comedy aren’t sustained, but as we begin to see personalities emerge and relationships form we become reinvested. A powerful shift into the Moulin Rouge’s ‘El Tango de Roxanne‘, accompanied by dramatic red lighting, signals a melodramatic love triangle, where a clear story is told despite weak acrobalance work and token aerial silks performance (in fact, the aerial equipment used never seems more than a convenient prop to give the performers height and create vertical levels onstage). The stand-out performer is spurned lover Chiharu – who also directs the company – and her heartbroken contortion act on a large red armchair genuinely tugs at the emotions, before she break into the audience to find herself a new man; unfortunately for her, they are too old, or already married, but we enjoy the connection and interaction.
There is also some great juggling work in the show, and I was impressed with the speed and surprise of a number involving towers of paper cups from the water-cooler. As the clock races around and the work is piled onto our white-collar business-people, we are treated to some great showmanship with a toss juggling routine – which becomes a duet, an ensemble number, and finally a solo 7-ball cascade – revealing office politics, and working as a metaphor for the ever increasing responsibilities of the pressured workers.
As clocking off time arrives, the hapless team are caught up in a further web of telephone wires as the grey-suited and grey-haired boss-character revels in his mischievous abuse of power. We all laugh along with the ridiculousness of such a slogging work routine, that dominates so many people’s lives; and then it all takes a manic turn, with flashing lights and flying paperwork all over.
In the resulting darkness, a disaster management operative enters in protective clothes to clear up the mess to the wry strains of ‘Que Sera Sera’, and we are treated to one last cynical closing image. Despite a number of fumbles, and some over-extended sequences, this show certainly has some charm.
A perfect scoring of breath and vocals accompanies wonderful contrasts between dead-pan expressions and extreme face-pulling – I wonder if this is the ‘traditional Japanese clowning’ mentioned in their press release? If so, I will be eagerly looking up more Japanese clowns.