I really enjoyed this short piece in the Studio at York Theatre Royal. The play was set in a Call Centre and this seemed like a really good idea because working in sales is like, or even is, putting on a performance. What happens here is that the edges of reality are slightly shifted so we are actually in a fantasy world. The call centre supervisor motivates her team with team games and one ot ones, and the management speak is turned into an ironic commentary on office life and the world of cold calling and hard selling.
The Call Centre sells soul saving. Customers are the desperate members of society – those in financial difficulty, having relationship issues, suffering bereavement. They are all fodder for the sales team to sell a counselling sessions. This is a commentary of the customer service approach that has at the bottom of it a greed for consumerism. In the Soul Savers’ world, is customer service about making sure people are treated with dignity? No it pampers to them to sell them something. In using the Soul Savers idea, the pressures of society today are wonderfully highlighted and that makes them a customer ready to be sold to is a fantastic idea.
The play introduces us to four stereotypes. The male sexual predator who thinks he can charm every woman and sex is his only interest. A woman who flirts with her male colleague but wants to do a MA in Creative Writing and poor Johsie who easily falls down (literally and metaphorically to use a cliché). The central character is Carol, recently promoted and determined to be at the top of the company’s sales board. In the background, and never seen, there are a cast of characters, the callers to the call centre and Stuart, the previous team leader, who seemed to have had a human side.
Conversations with callers always begins with the statement ‘every call is confidential’. The irony is that nothing is confidential. Calls are listened into, mocked by the sales team and used for training purposes. The client list of the Samaritans has even been sold on, as a source to cold called.
The twist at the end of the play is wonderful and shocking. We except Carol to have a human face, that we find she is actually a sensitive woman and can be moved to have to sympathy for the callers. We expect the twist to be something we think we spot under the surface. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is a good one, testing even our own responses to how we think we read and know people.