The curtain parts to reveal a business lounge. Chairs upholstered in that specific off-white shade centre around a table atop which sit meticulously arranged glasses. Textured wood scales the walls as rays of light ingrain themselves within the perimeter of each slab.
Four candidates find themselves in this room competing for a single position, à la The Grönholm Method. Unexpectedly, the process pits the hopefuls against each other to test their resolve in a series of tasks, exercising mental and emotional endurance, where the last one standing (in the room at least) will be hired.
Ross Edward’s stage design is detailed and transportive; from the depth created via windows overlooking skyscrapers at the back, to the sharp borders cutting the edges of the space at the front. Immediately, a double-sided mirror is created between the audience and the stage. Inherently voyeuristic, the spectator is placed in the assessor role.
A distinct lack of tension plagues this production. In the series of winding twists, only some come as a surprise. Seemingly resulting from choosing to lean heavily into the comedic elements of the text. This strikes me as an odd choice, given how out-dated and juvenile some of the humour is.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable part of the evening is spent cringing and eye-rolling within an audience laughing at the transphobic vitriol of Jonathan Cake’s problematic main character.
Occupying a considerable amount of time within the production, the choice to allow for this to play as comedy, rather than a critique of the time it was written in reads as irresponsible. Even if seen as testing the empathy of its audience as much as its characters, this conclusion is accidental at best.
Framing Cake’s character as a flawed hero is a hugely overlooked opportunity to truly engage with the material, instead providing a platform for a monolith of toxic masculinity. Consequently, the production does not manage to make the leap from time of writing (2003) to today; calling into question the relevance of this specific revival.
Uneven, yet layered, the delivery from its actors starts out odd and disconnected. Though by the end, some of these decisions are explained vis-à-vis the plot, there is a tendency to play for its audience. At times entering sketch comedy territory, the characters all lacked dimensionality.
BT McNicholl’s direction is frustrating and mismatched. Sacrificing tension for laughs, the cruel nature of the business world is made a joke, rather than a topic for discussion. Attempting to navigate the dehumanising complexities inflicted on people at the peak of capitalism, The Grönholm Method gets lost.
The Grönholm Method is playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre until 7 July
Photo: Manuel Harlan