Fringe Review: Executive Stress / Corporate Retreat

by Jane

At AC Arts, a selection of Adelaide’s top level stressed executives gather for a corporate retreat. Ten will be selected for the “Elite Squad”, an intensive training and testing program which will tell us who is the most achieved in the corporate world.  The team from Applespiel are here to work with the squad, instructing them on how to become the best they can be. It will take drive, determination, and doggedness – from Applespiel and from their Elite Squad: the corporate world isn’t for pansies.

As the audience arrives for Executive Stress / Corporate Retreat, we are asked to sign up for the Elite Squad, where our names and photographs are taken, we are supplied with a tie, and ranked according to our dress and timeliness.  As an introduction, we are asked to play a warm up game: Cross the River. Yeses to one side, nos to the other. Here, I begrudgingly must admit I am a hare and not a tortoise, but quietly actually think that is better.

Making our way into the theatre, we see the members of Applespiel being subjected to some of the worst treatment one can get: they are running the Bleep Test. The souls of our inner high-school students wept at the memories.  And these women are doing it in heals no less!

What proceeds is a pseudo corporate training camp: for an hour we are instructed in and/or judged on facets of the corporate life, including our interview skills, problem solving, tying a double-Windsor knot, and our representation of our “best” and our “worst” selves.  Primarily individual pursuit, in one team activity I would like to point out I did not appreciate the lack of team spirit some displayed. I tried to say we need more structural integrity, but did anyone listen? No. No they did not. I can’t take responsibility for that cracked egg.

Executive Stress / Corporate Retreat works the best as a piece of silly fun, pretending to delve into a world which I am not a part of at all, but ultimately I wanted something deeper from both the activities and the cast. Applespiel gave us glimpses: we are told a subversive story about a man who finds great power through a terrible act, and then are instructed in a mnemonic which uses this story to teach us how to tie a tie; we briefly get glances into the vulnerability of one member Troy, as he cries after being berated for one of the women in the Elite Squad he is supervising being at the bottom of the rankings.

These moments hint towards much larger stories which are sitting just underneath the current surface: there is something more sinister here than simply a corporate training package viewed through a satirical lens. The suggestions are there that lead to the sense that something is rotten in the state of this training world, but I wanted to see more: more of the sordid yet subtle twists on everyday activities, and more of our trainers – what sort of people are the team members becoming? Ranked on the rankings of others, spending their time living in a heightened world of corporately training the corporate workers.

Whatever I can learn about myself and my fellow Elite Squad members through the audience participation doesn’t have the same potential to give me a glance into another world that Applespiel themselves can find for us through the larger framework of Executive Stress / Corporate Retreat.  There is more of a balance between the banal and the bizarre of this training world to be found by Applespiel. There is more of a world there I want to see.

Applespiel – Simon Binns, Nathan Harrison, Nikki Kennedy, Emma McManus, Joseph Parro, Troy Reid, Rachel Roberts and Mark Rogers – present Executive Stress / Corporate Retreat at AC Arts Main Theatre with the Adelaide Fringe. Season Closed.

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