‘We have placed ourselves in the hands of the great God Zoom’. These words, from the tongue-in-cheek webpage introduction to ticketholders for The Boss Of It All, are a reminder of the trust we have in technology. Not only the trust that we’ll be entertained for this performance, but the trust that our jobs, education and even doctor’s appointments or therapy sessions can be moved to virtual rooms.
This adaptation of Lars von Trier’s surreal Danish workplace comedy takes the weirdness of office politics and distant managers and, in true 2020 style, relocates it to video conference platform Zoom, jumping from one-to-one meetings to team sessions and back again.
We’re thrown into an initial chat between actor Kristina (a sparkling Josie Lawrence) and Ravn (Ross Armstrong), as Ravn explains the unusual acting job he has for Kristina: to convince his colleagues that she is their mysterious boss, based in America, finally making an appearance for a big announcement about the company. Luvvie Kristina is more used to stage acting – “I once toured a solo version of Hedda Gabler round village halls,” she says – and though this new job doesn’t seem too daunting, Ravn has further tasks for her, including a webinar and appraisals. In internet terms, Kristina is basically being asked to catfish the team as well as their Icelandic business associates (and this international diplomacy also gives way to the odd joke about the centuries of Danish rule that Iceland endured).
Kristina must not only adapt to her challenging role, but also to the challenge of not being in the same room as her supposed colleagues. That means trying to engage with Mette (Yuriko Kotani), who is “avoiding all non-essential contact with her keyboard” and therefore wearing rubber gloves; meanwhile, Spencer (Jamie de Courcey) can’t unmute himself or fathom Zoom backgrounds. Of course, the actors are all at home in real life, so there is the possibility of genuine technical challenges as well as scripted ones, but you can take these with a pinch of salt. The digital production zips along, with music by Kaada to aid the flow.
The Boss Of It All has plenty to say about socially distanced team dynamics and taking responsibility, topics that will continue to be relevant in 2021 and beyond; as zeitgeisty as this play feels, it isn’t just about this calamitous year. People will continue to make decisions about hiring and firing through a screen; your next boss could theoretically live in a different country. When colleague Lise (Rachel Summers) tries to comfort Ravn by saying his furloughed colleagues are “just pixels”, it’s not the full picture. They may be on a screen, but they are individuals with worries and responsibilities.
With an able cast and a digital-friendly running time of 70 minutes, I didn’t once find myself making like Lise and hanging out my washing whilst pretending to concentrate. This is one play you won’t want to leave on mute.
This show completes its current run on 20 September.
Original author: Lars von Trier
Adapted and directed by: Jack McNamara
Produced by: Darius Powell/New Perspectives/Soho Theatre