REVIEW: How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

We don’t need a play which demeans a woman’s place in the world of work.

ADC Cambridge Cambridge Theatre how to succeed in business without really trying student theatre Tab the tab

Imagine that, in the times before Google, you have an omnipotent book which tells you how to climb the ladders of the corporate jungle.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a hidden clause somewhere written in tiny letters. In the case of this musical it’s male chauvinism.

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a musical from the swinging sixties in which the men talk constantly about work and the women, well, they talk about men and sit pretty. But it’s not just the bouffant hair or the pearl necklace that has becomes synonymous with this decade; its misogyny hasn’t faded either.

Toby Waterworth and the omnipotent book

In this show the largest dilemma for the women is the horrifying prospect of wearing a dress more than once, whilst the biggest achievement of the one-dimensional female protagonist, Rosemary (Rachel-Marie Weiss), is managing to escape the friend zone and marry rich. Rosemary suffers more humiliation at the hands of the man she adores than Molly Hooper suffers under Sherlock. It feels embarrassing even to watch it.

It’s certainly a man’s world. The women are told to not dare to dream big but leave it for men. The only way to survive is to marry them and keep their dinner warm. When coming up with advertising ideas, the business company base their selling points on the female body; the value of women is reduced to boobs, lust and humility.

This play is a reproduction of a frozen moment from the sixties, and there appears  not even the hint of irony or a wink which could assure that it’s only a joke.

Heather Conder and Rachel-Marie Weiss

However, the musical is not without its entertaining moments. Its humour – apart from the sexism – is found in a few well-developed character. Joe Pieri is entertaining in all of his roles. His trembling neurosis realising that the coffee machine went wrong evokes the worst Monday mornings of my life. The whole coffee break scene is brilliant. Its choreography resembles to a caffeine addicted Walking Dead casting.

The scene in the male room with the fake mirrors is also really creative, but also creepy in an American psycho- way. Stanley Thomas has a good performance in the part of the feared corporate shark whose secret hobby is knitting. The only female character who has a drop of free will somewhere in her veins is played by Heather Conder, which is a relief.

Coffee break

Within two hours Finch (Toby Waterworth) becomes the chair of the board in the face of his humble beginnings as a window cleaner. Those who doesn’t like to think too much get a well prepared, colourful and cheerful musical with elaborate attention to sixties features and and some great musical direction.

However, outright misogyny on a Cambridge stage has its unavoidable connotations. Finch also learns that sex doesn’t always sell.

3/5 stars