calling head

calls top

Caroline Nash as Rachel and Oli Leonard as Sean

Calling for Help

Mac Birmingham

****

ANYONE who has ever been told all our advisers/experts/whatever are busy and that your call is important to us, over and over as the will to live slowly evaporates, knows the frustration of call centres.

If calling them is throwing a chunk of your life into a black hole of random music and inane assurances until an actual person answers, then imagine what it is like on the other end of the phone.

Rachel is a team leader of a sales team selling Perfect Kitchens, among other things, dealing with complaints – of which there are many, and problems, all the while exuding confidence and enthusiasm.

Sean is her daughter’s unemployed boyfriend given a job in the sales team by Rachel to help him along. Sean is as about as suited to telesales as King Herod was to child-minding.

Caroline Nash is an engaging Rachel, greeting the audience as they come in for their ‘induction’ day with half a dozen unsuspecting souls given roles as members of the team and called up at random intervals for comments or, in the case of Terry, blast with a water pistol, and you don’t get more interactive than that.

Sutton Coldfield’s Oli Leonard’s Sean is just the opposite. He doesn’t want to be there, has all the enthusiasm of a drying puddle and just wants to be a fireman.

Rachel generates a 1950’s Hi Di Hi atmosphere, jollying everyone along, with prizes for first sale of the day, inspiring music, employee of the month – all the trivial trappings of telesales recognisable to anyone who has ever seen a teleselling floor in full swing.

Enter new American owner Randall B Hitchcock, never seen or heard but with a pervading presence worthy of Mordor, and all changes.

Randy embraces the current modern management idea that if staff are happy, even just a little bit, then those in charge are doing something wrong. Staff have to live in permanent fear of their job. Rules and duties have to be changed regularly to keep people on their toes, while sales targets have to be raised to always keep them just out of reach, while staff numbers have to be regularly culled.

The MBA mantra is that if you cut costs, i.e. staff, you increase profits and to achieve that then the staff left have to work harder to compensate for those ‘let go’ as management jargon has it. Which means comfort breaks become anything but at a maximum of three minutes, and black marks are earned for minor transgressions such as being a minute late - two black marks means being ‘let go’.

It is all too much for Rachel who is reduced to the ranks back on the phones, but Sean, now soon to be a dad with Rachel’s daughter Holly, awakens a slumberingrachel and sean despot deep inside him to try to make something of himself, and provide for his family, pushing to take over as team manager.

Slowly he becomes the manager from hell, the earthly incarnation of the commands issued by Randy on high. The call centre’s superhero far from helping people is relentlessly driving them. Sackings and injustice abound as slowly work and home life collapse around him.

A wake up call for Sean

Sean is now living in his mother-in-law’s house, with girlfriend Holly, mother of baby Amy, vanished to stay with a friend, and rock bottom is slowly being reached as Hitchcock automates the call centre and everyone is ‘let go’ with Sean, able to stomach it any longer, following his team out of the door, hating himself and hated by the people who worked under him. By the end no one worked for him.

Writers Liz John and Julia Wright have skillfully added layer after layer as the opening scene of out and out comedy  from the clever, and wickedly accurate portrayal of telesales slowly becomes a very human drama about relationships, post-natal depression, naked ambition and life.

There is the love of a child from a grandparent and from a father, both very different yet both trying their best in their own ways in what cannot be an easy relationship; a mother living in the same house as her daughter's boyfriend, the father of her daughter's baby, while daughter Holly has run off to a friend leaving them to bring up Amy between them.

And then there is Amy,a baby, yet she speaks to Sean, or is that just his imagination?

There is still humour, and plenty of it,  but the two dimensional figures that greeted us at the start have become real people by the end as we see the gradual changes in their characters cleverly created by Nash and Leonard - a couple of years of life distilled into 100 minutes.

Those seeking an everyone living happily ever after ending will be disappointed – life is rarely like that – but Rachel and Sean do reach agreements and understandings and, finally, a contentment of sorts. If not exactly satisfied with their lot, Rachel and Sean at least accept it . . . almost; Sean is still determined to be a fireman.

Directed by Jonathan Legg, Calling for Help runs to 09-04-16

Roger Clarke     i

08-04-16 

Future dates:

14th & 15th April 8.00pm, The Playhouse, Clare Street, Northampton NN1 3JA - 01604 627791; 16th April 8.00pm, Upstairs at the Western, Leicester LE3 0GA - www.upstairsatthewestern.com; 22nd April 8.00pm, Evesham Arts Centre WR11 4QH - 01386 446944; 27th April 8.00pm, The Angles, Wisbech PE13 1HQ - 01945 474447; 28th April 8.00pm, Market Harborough Theatre LE16 7NB - www.oxboffice.com; 29th April 8.00pm, Artrix, Bromsgrove B60 1PQ - 01527 577330 

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