[author-post-rating] (4/5 stars) Richard Dresser’s script is a beautiful thing, given hilarious life by a cracking cast of actors under Hamish MacDougall’s direction. Full of black humour, Below the Belt is a treat. Our hapless characters are employees in a faceless corporation, posted overseas somewhere, living in “the compound” day in, day out. They are “the Checkers”, two underlings and a senior Checker, there to make sure that that the mysterious factory is following procedure and turning out enough units every day to hit its quotas.
Graham Dickson’s Hanrahan has carved out a wondefully passive-aggressive niche for himself, alone in his two-person office-come-bedroom, having apparently driven his previous colleague mad. Tom Golding’s sweet-natured Dobbitt is thrown into his company, and the interactions between the two are just brilliant. Dresser’s script is great, but under MacDougall’s direction, the deadpan delivery and slightest of pauses draw big laughes from the audience. It’s bleak, yes, but very funny.
Their boss, Merkin (Mike Wozniak) is consistently undermining, sowing seeds of discontent and trying to play them off against each other. As the plot grows ever-more absurd and surreal, the three have to learn how to work with or around each other to make their lives bearable. The mind games, machinations and double-dealings get more ridiculous and hilarious as the play progresses, until it’s difficult to see how they can extricate themselves. Dresser’s script has a neat twist, which gives us a satisfactory ending.
The design, by Holly Pigott, makes excellent use of office equipment – scones appear from boxes, pairs of lamps become the menacing eyes of animals outside the compound. The script throws in just enough knowing or poignant moments to balance its absurdism and keep us caring about the characters. It’s clever stuff, and Ham on Why theatre has produced a brilliantly funny black comedy with it.
Below the Belt is at Underbelly until 26 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.