Originally performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Soho Theatre in 2013, the stage adaption of Lars Von Trier’s 2006 work-place comedy, The Boss of It All, has found a new home to spread laughs from: Zoom. This production further updates the 2013 production so it now reflects this contemporary moment (all the action takes place over a series of video conferences). This online offering is fresh and fun, if a bit unstable; it’s a reimagining of a reimagining, in the very best way.
Kristina (Josie Lawrence) is an out-of-work actor hired by Ravn (Ross Armstrong) to pose as the ‘real’ boss of his IT company, as a way to shield himself from the ire of his employees as he makes some unpopular decisions. Confronted with some larger-than-life characters and the threat of a delicate merger, Kristina has to find a way to keep the balance and convince the sceptical workers that she really is the Boss of It All.
At its core the play interrogates the fragility of leadership: how the veneer of good management can often boil down to just offering a convincing performance, and how this is even more flimsy in a work-from-home world. Expected to project confidence and control despite knowing nothing about the company or ‘her’ employees, Kristina flounders about, accidentally angering some with her comments about the weather and blaming others for imaginary mistakes; it’s farcical but also scarily accurate. Writer/director Jack McNamara’s script in this regard is excellent, juxtaposing lofty themes and ideas with slapstick comedy and wordplay: he has captured the spirit of von Trier’s script and made it more prescient than ever.
Moreover, the role of Kristina has been gender-switched, having been ‘Kristoffer’ in the original film. Considering Von Trier often comes under fire for his mangled and confusing presentation of women, this gender switch is an inspired choice: Lawrence is magnificent in this part, deftly parodying the double-standard to which women are held, whilst also challenging the faux-formality of business culture at-large. As she switches accents on the fly posing dramatically “for effect” Lawrence steals the show with ease causing many a laugh – That is when we can understand what’s going on.
In these difficult times an online production shouldn’t really be judged on its technical fluidity. It would be reductive and in bad faith to criticise The Boss of It All solely on how smooth its delivery is, however, in this instance, it’s really difficult to put it out of your mind. This production suffers with stuttering images, dropped audio, out-of-sync conversations and the witty script and great performances get drowned out by the litany of tech issues. They do try to lampshade the situation by using a cynical narrator to highlight how weird it is that we’re all now “staring at our screens” and how this set-up can naturally lead to connection problems, but it’s not enough to offset the disruption. It’s a shame, because The Boss of it All’s commentary on cowardly leadership feels more important than ever, and Lawrence is a comedic antidote to these dark times. However, as the run progresses, these problems will likely be ironed out, and the cast will shine unimpeded, and I suppose in some ways it’s fitting: if The Boss of It All makes one thing clear, the world of Zoom business is always a little messy.
The Boss of it All is available on online until Sunday 20th September. For more information visit Soho Theatre’s website.