Debt is a dirty word. Debt collection is a dirty business.
Mike Cullen’s play peels back the opaque film that shows the innocuous words Unity Finance and reveals the murky world of high interest loans and their collection.
Joe Cravis (David Tarkenter) is a hard as nails, sharp suited, deeply misogynistic guy who has risen through the ranks of his profession. He is taking on the slow-witted, eager to please Billy Shaw (Tam Dean Burn) as a new recruit to the business, luring him with his own brand of cod psychology.
Old hand Bob Lawson (Jimmy Chisholm) known as The Truck as he always made a pick-up, the trade term for collecting a debt, is going through a crisis. He has become obsessed by the recent suicide of a female client, Jane Hanratty, and as a result has lost his focus.
Elena Malcolm (Pauline Turner) is a middle class woman in an apparently childless marriage who has run up colossal debts behind her teacher husband’s back and takes no prisoners when it comes to making compromises to find a solution to her problem.
Lawson has started to ignore Cravis’s slogan of ‘no excuses’ but in becoming more humane is on his own slippery slope to ruin. His good intentions are misinterpreted and he becomes the victim of vicious self-serving corruption.
Against a black set with office features shown in bas relief, perspex furniture pieces sit as bold ironic symbols of the lack of clarity involved in the high interest loan business. Three screens in the middle show black and white images of Elena Malcolm’s well-furnished home and the filing cabinets of Unity Finance as backdrop to appropriate scenes.
Traffic sounds, indicating normal life going on beyond the seedy interior, play between scenes under Michael Emans direction. But most affecting is the triptych image of the distraught face of the dead Jane Hanratty that haunts Lawson, accompanied by the plaintive sounds of McCrimmon’s Lament.
In a world where consumerism is king and the ready availability of plastic seems an easy way to cope, the complex and very serious issues of debt and how people become drowned in it are alarming. The play is tackling a raw and important topic that exposes a disturbing world of deals and gambits involving payments in the form of sex but there are times in the first half of the play when Tarkenter and Dean Burn disconcertingly come across like a comic duo with their ultra- male and misogynistic attitudes.
The second half is more sobering. Cullen uses an acute ear to produce tightly written dialogue with realistic language that is delivered in a naturalistic way by the four strong cast.
It is disappointing that the female character Malcolm is unsympathetic with no redeeming features to engender any empathy. She has been given hard and inflexible traits with a delight in parrying to equal Cravis in whom she eventually meets her match.
Empathy instead goes to Lawson, played brilliantly and sympathetically throughout by Jimmy Chisholm as a man trying hard to be human in an inhuman environment.
There is no happy ending here, no redemption and no offer of a solution. Just like real life for those in serious debt.
Fri 20 - Sat 21 Sept