You can’t say anything these days, can you? Not with the Woke Police constantly on the lookout, just waiting to cancel anyone who steps out of line. Whatever happened to freedom of speech…?
In the quaint space of the Old Red Lion Theatre, HR manager Kenneth has summoned middle manager John for a meeting to discuss an allegation that’s been made about something that happened when John asked a junior female colleague to work late.
Before we can even get to the facts of the case, Kenneth has John constantly on the back foot over his use of inappropriate language. Or as John would have it, just “language”. But John has the misfortune of working for an organisation which has wholeheartedly embraced – or over-embraced for comic effect – every conceivable strategy for neutralising potentially actionable language and behaviour.
Poor John can barely utter a word without unwittingly sending Kenneth into a fibulating spasm of offence-by-proxy. As well as outlawing gendered terms and expressions of emotion, the company is “not fond of metaphors” or anything that might allow employees to stray beyond the straight and narrow confines of an entirely “de-risked” form of communication and interaction.
We’ve been making jokes about “PC gone mad” and “Woke Warriors” for years now, so the territory of Matt Roberts’ Amendments is very recognisable. It’s a sort of Orwell-meets-Kafka nightmare with John powerless in the face of a corporation that ultimately controls the rules of engagement and the consequences of behaving outside the prescribed norm.
Roberts’ script is appropriately meticulous, and the cast of two completely inhabit their roles. Roberts himself plays Kenneth, giving a hyperactive performance, constantly animated by shock or disgust and never leaving a piece of company jargon unillustrated by an overly physicalised mime.
In the “everyman” role of John, Al Wadlan has less to do but is totally convincing as the fall guy of the system that has transformed to situate him as a villain.
As engaging as the performances are, and as relevant as the scenario is, I found myself wishing for a little more from the story. Kenneth’s occasional flashes of cruelty are surprising and invigorating, and a passionate account of how the ancient privilege of the straight white able-bodied male needed to be challenged was effective. But the balance of power never shifts, which leads to a feeling of dramatic inertia. I wanted to be surprised by a fresh take on the subject but the show never quite makes the move into the genuinely original or provocative – and certainly not in its cheap throwaway final line.
That’s what I think, at least. If you don’t like it, just cancel me.
Written by: Matt Roberts
Directed by: Tom Stabb
Produced by: Middleweight Theatre
Amendments plays at The Old Red Lion Theatre until 14 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.