Yusuf Niazi’s Try Harder is a surreal comedy-drama about young adults in the working world. Whilst the play does well to represent some of the pressures and obstacles that young people face, the production still has room to evolve theatrically to make an impact.
Sam (Toby Moran Mylett), Lucy (Cléo Roggenhofer), and Grace (Helen Squires) are all starting a new job. They don’t know anything about it, only that it pays well. When they discover what their training entails (moving chairs from one side of the room to the other, and little else) and are ridiculed for their attempts to complete it, they become frustrated, building to a heated confrontation. The play intends to ask the question: when is your good, good enough? The metaphor (of having to move the chairs with little justification or understanding of the goal) clearly comments on common experiences of young people as they emerge into the working world, often feeling lost and without meaning; nameless cogs in a corporate machine.
Whilst the play’s bizarre premise is clear in its intentions, the production would benefit from further elements of the surreal to elevate the performance. Sam is portrayed in an exaggerated, almost caricature-like manner, which creates comedic moments. Mylett’s engaging use of body language and physical comedy brings a fullness to the production which could have been further enriched had the other characters matched Sam’s energy and ridiculousness. The other performers are also talented; Roggenhofer’s characterisation is clear through her consistent use of gesture and facial expression; Squires brings an energy, and moments of confessional direct address to the audience which are evocative. Darrel Draper’s performance as Joe, the face of the ridiculous, oppressive company, is a stand out. Joe is the story’s antagonist and lacks the humanity of the other characters, but Draper is consistently convincing, with a strong stage presence, and also brings his energy and theatrical use of voice and facial expression to the other roles he plays.
True to a comedy, the play evokes much laughter. A highlight is the ballet routine the characters try to use to move their chairs; the ridiculousness of this moment is an example of the success of the surreal in the performance. Maintaining this level of originality throughout would improve the overall success of the production.
Rebeka Molnar’s set design is simple but fit the needs of the story. Had the stage been smaller, the space may have felt fuller. Costume, by Jupiter D’Oliveira and Roggenhofer, suits the characters, offering visual cues to their status and personality. The production’s lighting is successful in defining scenes, immediately alerting audience to changes in context.
Some moments of the performance land, particularly those when the drama is tackling its themes surrounding adulthood, but some of the dialogue feels too explicit. Further tension might develop from a more oblique script. Try Harder starts strong with comedy and strangeness, and shows potential for an exciting and original exploration of early adulthood. With development, more creativity, and risk-taking, the show could become one to remember.
Written, Directed and Produced by: Yusuf Niazi
Set Design by: Rebeka Molnar
Costume Design by: Jupiter D’Oliveira and Cléo Roggenhofer
Try Harder is playing at Omnibus Theatre until 20 August 2022. Ticketing information here.