Review: Try Harder, Pursued by a Dragon
2.0Overall Score

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Written and directed by Yusuf Niazi, Try Harder is a comedy about three young people who have been hired, unseen, for a job they know nothing about — a concept that feels like a corporate team-building exercise. These three clashing personalities are desperate to achieve in their new roles, but the boss from hell pushes them to the brink as they set about trying to complete his nonsense requests.

At its core the play is very simple, with Niazi using his comic conceit to explore the anguish faced by young people trying to achieve in an increasingly demanding world. As the play progresses it incorporates surreal sketch elements to further develop the characters and explain their individual troubles, frequently flipping back to the main storyline to progress the narrative. 

The construction of the characters is largely solid. Though sometimes bordering a little on caricature, their dialogue is always well-intentioned for the circumstances, leading to some very believable awkward moments or flat-out arguments. The stakes, which become apparent from the backstory of each character, naturally build the tension of the scene, providing the characters with a reason to remain in a situation that most of us would quickly walk away from.

Regrettably, the play is far too long for such a condensed plot, with many moments surplus to the overall aim of the production. This makes the play feel self-indulgent, pushing the provocative and lingering on small ideas until they are so overworked that the voice of the play seems petulant and privileged, in an “isn’t it hard for us” way, which I simply don’t care for. That said, the actors manage honourably to maintain the level of energy and focus required, fully living their stories from beginning to end, with a standout performance by Tânia Miranda de Carvalho.

The grating feeling that the play develops from its persistence is exacerbated by fairly bland and boxy blocking, with the actors mostly on one level, and either all static, or all in motion. There is, however, a wonderful contrast in pace and staging between the main story and the backstory/tangents which adds an engaging dynamic. 

Whilst it may seem small, one fantastic element of the show is the clarity of the audio – both as a production aspect, as well as in regard to the performers. A constant troublesome issue with digital theatre over the last year has been sound recording, with actors either muffled or completely inaudible at times, my ears straining to hear every word and leaving me with throbbing temples. Try Harder uses radio mics on each performer to perfectly capture their voices, with clear focus on their well-rehearsed delivery.

Ultimately, whilst I like the concept and there is some brilliant dialogue (which is also very well performed), this show is not a hugely enjoyable watch. After about thirty minutes I’ve kind of got it and wanted to move on – perhaps a sign of binge-watching times, but then again, I’m by no means afraid of a long play. A more abbreviated version would be more appealing, along with a clearer directorial approach.

Try Harder is available to stream until 8 April 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Space website.