How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

“It’s a production that makes you laugh at the absurdity of the part of the human condition that is determined to succeed at whatever at the expense of whomever and you certainly leave with a smile on your face”.

Most people want to climb the ladder of success, even if only one rung at a time.  On entering the theatre we’re all confronted with ladders of different shapes and sizes, hinting at the story to come. 

This new reworking of a 1960s musical, brought to us by Big Con Productions tells the story of J Pierrepont Finch, a humble window cleaner, who with the help of his trusty book (voiced by Michelle Visage!) works his way up the company ladder, with very little knowledge of what the company does.  But then neither does anyone else who works there and neither do we – and that’s the point! 

This production helps us to see that many of the same challenges exist today as then, but packaged slightly differently.  The conventions of who should and shouldn’t succeed; the conventions of who should and shouldn’t love whom; the conventions of succeeding, not because of what you know, but who you know. 

Much of this is achieved by the deliberate directorial choice of including gender-fluid actors among the cast.  It’s a choice that will be a challenge to some regular users of the social media with the Blue Bird!  

With that in mind a special mention needs to go to Allie Daniel (She/Her) who was arguably the star of the show.  She brings her whole being to the role of Rosemary Pilkington, the love interest of Finch, played with a commanding calmness by Gabrielle Friedman (She/They).  Allie’s comic timing is impeccable and, combined with her subtle but effective facial expressions and easy voice, make for a great stage presence.  Many of the ‘laugh out loud’ moments (and there are plenty) belong to Allie.

Also notable is Elliot Gooch (He/Him) who plays the annoying, brattish Bud Frump, nephew of the CEO of the company, J.B. Biggley.  Elliot portrays well, the impetuous man-child who is only there because he is related to the boss and tries to sabotage every attempt of everyone else having any sort of success.  As his uncle remarks, blood may be thicker than water, but he’s thicker than anything! Tracie Bennett (She/Her) makes the part of J.B. her own, to the point where you forget she is a woman playing a man.  Her physicality and stage presence punches way above her physical frame. 

There are some good numbers among the songs, mostly in the first half, but we don’t leave with any particular earworms ringing in our heads.  The space in the theatre is used to good effect, although in some ways, the cast performance deserves to be bigger than the stage allows them to be. 

This is still early in the run and so has time to climb a bit further up the ladder and settle into the space.  It deserves to do well.  It’s a production that makes you laugh at the absurdity of the part of the human condition that is determined to succeed at whatever at the expense of whomever and you certainly leave with a smile on your face.   

This show was reviewed on the 16th May.  How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until the 17th June 2023.  Tickets available here: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - Southwark Playhouse

Review written by Ian Worsey

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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