Somewhere between 1984 and The Office, lies It Made Me Consider Me. This surreal dystopian induction to R.A.L.P.H., the company which deals in the extraction and storage of unwanted human memories, is founded in awkward humour and the mockery of mundane office life, yet often nods to something a little more sinister.
The performance begins in the New Diorama Theatre bar where, ticket-less, you are ominously “recruited”. Cordelia Stevenson, nothing short of excellent as the enthusiastic perma-smiling Sue, R.A.L.P.H.’s head of HR, gives you a name badge and a new identity before leading you out of the New Diorama Theatre to their adjacent ND2 space – a nearby abandoned office floor. It Made Me Consider Me bills itself as a ‘site-specific promenade performance, leading employees into a world of amnesia’ and using this intriguing, labyrinthine space, separate from the main theatre, it certainly delivers.
Proceedings kick off in the impressive atrium, where you are faced with real office floors above, a juxtaposition that helps to bring R.A.L.P.H. to life. As you wonder why you are spending your evening sat on a chair facing Sue, Christopher and Peter – the middle management of this organisation – as they open with icebreakers such as ‘what they would be if they were a fruit’, spotting a cleaner go about their duties without even a glance down at this strange scene, forces you to take that question rather seriously.
That is until the eponymous Ralph himself appears, the roller-blading founder played by the energetic Welsh-lilting Rhys Slade-Jones, who swoops around his employees, glides past the newbies (that’s you) clamouring for a high-five, and demands that everyone join in pantomime-style with his performance. As Sue says throughout, “just keep smiling”.
The ensuing action is a masterpiece of timing as you are separated into different induction groups, taken through team building tasks that demand you to divulge your favourite cake – a nod to Proust in this memory-themed affair – and led through the snaking back corridors decorated with unspecified hunks of machinery. GRUFF Theatre group must be commended for managing to maintain an element of spontaneity as you then bump into other group just in time for the latest reveal, and obscuring what must be a meticulously thought-out feat of direction.
Derek Elwood is perfection as the downtrodden, overlooked Peter, trapped on the lower floor work dealing with the L1 and L2 memories – in other words memory small fry. Often open mouthed with startled eyes and a great sense for comic timing, Elwood is the unsung hero, and shining star of this piece, and as the team battles with leaking memories, being thrust into new personas without warning, it is Elwood’s Peter who demonstrates that he is a serious comic talent.
Special mention must also go to the cleaner Merv, played by a very bright-eyed Thomas Bostock. With very few lines Bostock makes the most of his limited stage time, and plays up to the physical nature of his role with aplomb, as he manages to secure laughs with one look and a twist of his plastic-covered torso.
The issue that cannot be avoided, however, is that of audience participation. It Made Me Consider Me edges into the realm of immersive, and under the guise of your new employee identity there is a chance you will have to show off your own acting skills. I personally had the opportunity to dance with Peter during one of those aforementioned memory leaks, reluctantly transforming into his rather red-faced fiancée. Later I also found myself disciplining Sue as part of a very lenient HR roleplay (others displayed a more sadistic enjoyment of this than I), and at one of the creepiest moments in the piece consoling a distressed Christopher – played by a competent but sometimes hesitant Johnathan Blaydon – in toilets that could be only said to resemble those of a UV-dominant school disco.
It Made Me Consider Me is an unusual, and compelling night out. Confusing, overwhelming and yet, for the most part, laugh-out-loud funny, this disturbing drama leaves you forgetting the outside world as you are guided deeper into the surreal realm of the R.A.L.P.H. offices. A theatrical feat from the accomplished GRUFF Theatre, and proof that New Diorama Theatre is rightly viewed as one of London’s top fringe theatres.
It Made Me Consider Me is playing the New Diorama Theatre until 21 February. For more information and tickets, see newdiorama.com