How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
A musical with a few creases to iron out, but ultimately offering irony-heavy fun, writes HANNAH MIRSKY.
Sir Humphrey Cripps Auditorium, Magdalene, 7.45pm, 21st – 23rd February, 1.45pm 23rd February, £5/£7
directed by Rosalind Peters
This show has the depth and complexity of an ironing board. It’s as interested in the intricacies of human psychology as I am in cleaning the filter on the tumble-dryer. (I don’t know why these metaphors are laundry-based, but you catch my drift.) Set in a 1950s corporate world where elevators ping and secretaries click-clack on typewriters, it asks the audience to put aside theatrical pretensions and indulge in an evening of cheery self-help rhetoric, shameless social climbing, and mind-altering doses of irony.
How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying tells the story of J. Pierrepont Finch, an ambitious young window-cleaner, played with gusto by Jackson Caines, as he schmoozes his way up the corporate ladder. This is a world in which secretaries aspire to wait in a beautiful suburban house for a hardworking husband who rarely comes home, and the words ‘I can’t live without you’ are followed by a knowing look at the audience. In the first half, I did feel that a few of the performances, for example Catriona Stirling as Finch’s love interest Rosemary Pilkington, were a little too naturalistic for this exaggerated environment, but by the time the show drew to a close I had thoroughly warmed to them.
Curiously for a production set in the professional world, levels of professionalism are not always at the highest. Scene changes can take a while, though they only involve the rearrangement of generic office furniture. The American accents can be a little dodgy. Someone playing a cleaner makes the odd decision to make exaggerated sweeping motions with a mop. But nit-picking about the slickness of the show isn’t really the point. It wouldn’t matter how quickly a table got moved around if the audience weren’t having a good time. The audience, as it happens, were chortling all the way through.
There’s so much to enjoy: Caines grinning through a picture-frame at the audience as Finch’s carefully-laid plans come to fruition; the sight of a besuited man throwing his knitting across the room; and a group song, which anyone who’s ever had an essay crisis will appreciate, about the heart-stopping moment when you realise there’s no coffee left. The ensemble cast works beautifully together, without a weak link. The music, both in the background and during the songs, sets exactly the right tone, full of the twinkly crescendos of 1950s advertising. Most of all, it’s done with unfailing energy and commitment to this knowingly, unashamedly preposterous show.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying may not be the thing to watch if you want to learn something profound about humanity. It may not be the place to go for ADC-style slickness. But, with fun songs, good jokes, and a spectacularly cynical worldview, it’s the certainly the show to see if you just want to enjoy yourself on a Friday night.