A Strategic Plan Griffin Theatre Company Sydney, AUS Until March 11, 2017
Griffin Theatre Company’s main tenet if the fostering and support of new writing in Sydney ever since it was founded in 1982.
Fast forward almost four decades, with funding to the arts sector facing devastating cuts, subsequently causing Griffin Theatre’s scaling down of 2017s program, and voilà, the fragile arts sector is sitting on a precipice fraught with the possibility of collapse with Australia seemingly way behind other countries in both acknowledging and promoting arts industries as well as their subsequent influences on education, cultural capital, global relevance and a much simpler but less measurable statistic – public stability, health and happiness.
Set in a not-for-profit organization run by hobbyists, Ross Mueller’s satirical play A Strategic Plan is inspired by the dichotomy between the free spirited, passionate, creative realm of the art world fueled by goodwill of enthusiasts versus the administrative, soulless professional bureaucracy of pen pushers that treat it as a disposable commodity and the oxymoron of the latter with their adherence to rigid guidelines stymieing in its infancy what they are supposed to nurture.
A scenario all too familiar to anyone who has ever ventured into the arts sector and struggled with maintaining artistic integrity against monetary exploitation, based on individuals with competing agendas, confronted with the often poignant, foolishness that plagues the overregulated, form-filling administrative 9-to-5 world, with its clichéd parlance.
Set as a painfully well-observed satire against this office life, it comes with the territory that the characters are somewhat familiar and fit in with well-worn stereotypes, which are at times coloured with a broad brush at the expense of complexity, yet never The Office-esque cartoonish.
It is a wordy piece, with overlapping text and heavy, at times overly ambitious and high-volume dialogue.
Director Chris Mead manages to negotiate the transitions and journey between five different timeframes between past and present, which are blending into another, by utilizing music and lighting.
It appears as if the play has gone through quite a bit of restructuring to refine the effect and ensure comprehensibility for the audience.
The ensemble, spearheaded by Justin Smith, who manages in his role as a passion driven manager of a not-for-profit youth music venture to infuse the play with subtle notes of melancholy, is a tightly knit, well-oiled unit with great timing and engaging conversational rhythm based on clash of personalities. Nuances that are amplified by Matt Day’s sleazy portrayal of the board chair, Briallen Clarke’s radiating yet subtle presence and Emele Ugavule’s well measured delivery.
A Strategic Plan is a dark comedy, however, it is not merely a funny play as it also genuinely highlights the opposition and daily struggles one has to put up with once you have decided to take the road less traveled and live a life of your own.