A Strategic Plan review (Griffin Theatre, Sydney)

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If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be privy to a strategy meeting for a small team, you’ll likely find yourself cringing and laughing through most of Ross Mueller’s new comedy A Strategic Plan. Mueller ingeniously skewers the way that management speak can be used to obscure meaning as much as it can be used to create it, and this wonderful cast of four find all the comedic potential in that exploration.

The play follows Andrew (Justin Smith), a former bass player who becomes the new CEO of a youth music not-for-profit Staccato. It’s a tiny team, but Andrew has some big plans to secure more government funding (even if the Abbott-Turnbull governments have made that goal substantially more difficult) reach more young people, and provide the musicians amongst them with essential resources.

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Unfortunately Staccato’s Board isn’t too keen on the ambitious strategy put forward by Andrew, and they set about doing all they can to undermine him and stop the plan from proceeding. Andrew isn’t exactly idealistic, but does want to see his organisation do some good.

What follows is a painfully well-observed comedy as the Chair of the Board, Simon (Matt Day), and his HR rep Linda (Briallen Clarke) do their best to corner Andrew, who has little experience with the kind of corporate politics they’re subjecting him to.

Chris Mead directs this production with a strong clarity of purpose, with the action unfolding on designer Sophie Fletcher’s superb and authentic set (although the brief was perhaps not the most impossible — design an old building housing a small not-for-profit arts company inside Griffin’s historic Stables Theatre).

The casting of this production is faultless — Justin Smith is perfect as Andrew, worn down and run into the ground by loss after loss. His scenes with Matt Day as the sleazy Simon, who has personal ambitions that mightn’t sit too comfortably alongside Staccato’s, are a particular venomous highlight.

Emele Ugavule provides the production with plenty of heart, in a finely measured performance as the insightful, talented young Staccato staff member Jill, while Briallen Clarke continues to prove herself to be one of the best and subtlest young comedic actors working in Sydney.

The script is in pretty good shape, but could stand to lose 10 to 15 of its 90 minutes. And although it finds some lovely human moments between Andrew and Jill, the generation gap between them is dealt with in a way that often feels blunt.

And sure, many of the concerns of A Strategic Plan are relevant to a fairly specific type of worker, but much of Griffin’s audience would be made up of people who have experienced the often gaping divides between art, charity and commerce.

For the most part, the play is wry, darkly comedic and very cynical, but it turns out that its greatest concern is for the people who struggle under the kind of light psychological warfare and gas-lighting that can go on in offices.

A Strategic Plan is at Griffin until March 11

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