Skip to the epilogue: the last five minutes of this production are by far the best.
There are two earlier sections. Each unit is distinct.
In Part 1, we witness a training session in which a sales manager named Niall coaches three pharmaceutical reps on how to make a sales pitch for a questionable liver-spot treatment. Theatrically, there are a passel of problems here. Number 1: the pitch is ridiculously long and its manipulativeness is so transparent that nobody in their right mind would fall for it. Number 2: The pitch is repeated, with slight variations, four times. Everybody onstage gets a crack at it. Time threatens to go backwards. Number 3: The criticism of big pharma in particular and sales in general is simplistic.
Two of the sales reps also have a philosophical discussion of sorts in Part 1. Robbie, who’s been with the company for a while, keeps saying that, in life, nothing changes, things never get any better: “I just don’t think anything makes much of a difference.” Gemma, who’s new and who’s falling for Robbie, offers counterarguments: She invites Robbie to imagine the impact of having a baby, for instance. Then Robbie repeats himself and the two of them go in circles.
Fortunately, both Ishan Sandhu (Robbie) and Jessica Wong (Gemma) deliver appealing performances. Sandhu’s Robbie is playful and responsive. Wong’s performance as Gemma is grounded and honest — persuasively straightforward. She also has a velvety voice.
The projections by Jacob Wan and the video by Peacock Farm Productions are appropriately slick and bland.
But Part 1 still feels like it goes on forever.
In Part 2, there’s some narrative tension, which makes for a welcome change, but that tension is cheaply won.
Set several years after Part 1, which places it more or less in the present, Part 2 shows us two characters who are struggling to cope with a devastating plague — far worse than Covid 19. (The Here and This and Now premiered at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in 2017 so, yes, it was prescient.)
A former employee of a big drug company talks her way into the home of a senior executive. Everyone in her immediate family, except for her son, has died of the plague. There are rumours of a cure. She wants it. And she threatens to torture the exec if he doesn’t hand it over.
Playwright Glenn Waldron’s target here is the overuse of antibiotics, which has left the world’s population vulnerable to disease, but his theatrical mechanism is torture. Presenting torture as entertainment is questionable at the best of times. It’s also unoriginal.
The actors, Evangela Kepinski and Matt Loop, do solid work — and Kepinski has to deliver masses of text.
But again, there’s nothing substantial, revelatory — or consistently entertaining.
Then comes the epilogue, which must have been shot in advance. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that it’s set in the future, it’s surprisingly lyrical, (ultimately sly), and it features an unbelievably lovely little boy. Director Lauren Taylor and/or set designer Linda Begg’s choice of a stylized setting works.
But why program this play? It adds up to so little.
THE HERE AND THIS AND NOW By Glenn Waldron. Directed by Lauren Taylor. A United Players production. Viewed on Saturday, June 5.* Running online until June 27. Tickets.
*My apologies for posting this review late. I had hoped to view The Here and This and Now on June 4, but technical difficulties forced the cancellation of opening night. I was able to view the show last night, but had other plans for today.
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