What do you think; at this day and age do we live to work or work to live? Do we stand a chance against multinationals? Can we effect change? What about unionising? Happy to Help is a razor-edged comedy offering a look-see to the world of a chain supermarket, from the lowliest shelf-stacker to the upper echelons of management. We might abhor supermarkets for their reported treatment of suppliers and approach to Fairtrade, but we just love their convenience, choice and low-cost products.
A bankrupt farmer sells his land and ten years later a supermarket stands on the same spot. At Frisca you can buy from your groceries to your…funeral and oh, everybody is family! UK managing director Tony will be spending a week undercover as an employee at the store. Vicky, the branch manager, ruling with an iron rod, will make it realistic beyond belief. And in the microcosm of the Frisca branch you also have Josh, a self-confessed anarchist and an aspiring musician, Elliot, who is trying to organise a union and mouthy Myra just earning a living. Above them all is the digital presence of Huck the red-neck American CEO, the corporate shark.
Michael Ross has written a play that is funny, relatable and if you go beyond the laughs and the stereotypes – and in this case the stereotypes create realism rather than banality – calls us on our own hypocrisies. We laugh at the tannoy announcements, the surreal corporate forms; at the glittery ads and the sing-songs of the company anthem; at the demanding /spoilt customers and the protocol-adhering employees. We laugh with the all too familiar water-cooler talk, after-work drinks and covert moments of subversion. We laugh and at the same time bristle with recognition when Vicky turns time and time again the tables on her staff and Tony wrong-footing them, her arguments and attitude all too familiar in a work environment. The sparkling corporation of the ads in contrast with the morose reality. From the laughter emerges a critique not only on corporate greed and ruthlessness and on attempts to suppress any change and improvement of work conditions but on our own behaviour. Our consumerism, our indifference or fatalism in pursuing our rights and our dreams, our own ruthlessness and self-servitude are all shown in stark relief.
The second part could do with some work. The end seemed rushed and I do not think a role such as Vicky needed the underlying drama to justify her actions. People can be ruthless and harsh without a scarred past. She was delicious managing her own disparate staff, delivering brand values to her corporate masters all the while gleefully outmanoeuvring everyone. I most definitely would not ask her for a raise!
Roxy Cox’s direction is fast-paced and her use of the tannoy announcements and ads to cover set and scene changes helped to maintain it as well as not to break the audience’s attention. In an overall excellent cast Katherine Kotz stands out. Her Machiavellian, no-bullshit Vicky is captivating.
A sharp comedy that will make all us cogs in the machine laugh.