The Sit

Caitríona Ni Mhurchú and John Cronin in 'The Sit' by Gavin Kostick.

Caitríona Ni Mhurchú and John Cronin in 'The Sit' by Gavin Kostick.

Are young(ish) men the new women in corporate culture? Gavin Kostick’s one act, The Sit seems to think so, making entertaining use of a societal paradigm shift. However, when you’re flipping an idea on its head, and shifting the assignment of roles, there are inevitably things that don’t get teased out fully, in the main due to the constraints of the form. Nevertheless, the style, focus and wit of this play is incredibly impressive, given its short format.

Paul (Cronin) has made a huge mistake: he’s given the wrong Starbucks to the CEO of the embattled company for whom he works. As he sits and sweats out the shame, he finds himself in conversation with a female colleague (Ní Mhurchú). Well, 'colleague' is pushing it, as it’s clear within about ten seconds that she has far more experience swimming with the sharks than he. If this was another sort of play, you wouldn’t be wrong, initially, to think she was Satan. It’s as if she has a Mephistophelian comprehension of every single weakness he has. She mocks him, almost lovingly, when he admits that he’s got a big idea to make the company a tonne of money – he’s bollixed up the lattes, so how in the world does he think he’s going to pull of a scheme involving off-shore trusts? He’s certainly not going to get anywhere unless he chooses to hold on to his secrets.

The woman has secrets of her own, an agenda of her own, and quite impressively uses her senior female status to encourage Paul to share his idea and team up with her to sell the idea (about a trust, which the play explains with utter clarity – a huge relief to this fiscally challenged critic). There’s absolutely nothing sexual about her persuasion of Paul; neither is it a nurturing sort of woo. It is pure pitch, something that women have been accused of being unable to pull off, because they’re just so emotional all the time and want everyone to like them. This woman doesn’t give a damn, and this is what allows her to convincingly behave in a way that any of her male colleagues would.

All Paul wants is to keep his job; he’s desperate to keep the cash flowing, in order to be able to support his autistic son. Career means nothing to him: coming up with the idea of the off-shore trust was not an ambitious means to an end, merely a survival tactic. He wants to take the money, and if not run, then at least keep his neck off the block for the time being.

Paul is flabbergasted by the eventual betrayal, but it is a betrayal that was by no means apparent. The stakes in this play rise and rise, aided and abetted by the brisk pace set down by Annabelle Comyn, and two strong and pithy performances by Cronin and Ní Mhurchú. There’s a Mametian vibe which is no bad thing, and a sophistication of ideas that makes this a piece that will surely travel well.

Caitríona Ní Murchú in 'The Sit' by Gavin Kostick.About that paradigm shift: Paul’s expectation of his female colleague’s trustworthiness is actually rather misogynistic; as she says herself, he wouldn’t have taken her into his confidence had he been a man of the same age and status. He’s practically a babe in the woods, a role most often filled by a young woman rather than a young man; his concern for his son can be seen to be a feminine concern. Likewise, she is the sort of stone bitch that women turn into when they ape the ways of alpha males. There is a moment when both seem to be edging into their more traditional roles, when she offers a payoff (feminine conciliation), when Paul seems to accept it (masculine sense of entitlement). There are complications here that only get a gloss, due to the brevity of the text, and therefore its tantalizing ideas don't have the time to be explored beyond the mere switching of typical male/female characteristics.

A word about the design: Sarah Jane Shiels' black box set, with its single white chair, is thrilling in its simplicity, and in many ways, is a rousing two-fingers to the establishment. The entire Show-in-Bag concept cocks its snook at notions of theatricality that have been the watermark for many a theatre practitioner on this island. When the money was flowing, there seemed to be inordinate pressure to make every production a Production, forcing everyone onto the same sized playing field. Some ideas are meant to be spare. Some shows are meant to be small and perfectly formed, and deserve to receive as much attention as anything that plays on our bigger stages. There’s an opportunity, in our Current Economic Climate to do work that is vital, contemporary, and fuelled by the energy of self-determination. This opportunity has been well grasped by Fishamble, the Absolut Fringe Festival and ITI, and one hopes that more of this sort of thing – good theatre, professionally and simply made – is in our future.

Susan Conley is a novelist and arts journalist.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Sit by Gavin Kostick

22 February - 12 March, 2011

Produced by Fishamble, Absolut Fringe Festival and ITI
In Bewley's Café Theatre

Directed by Annabelle Comyn

Design: Sarah Jane Shiels

Sound: Niall Toner

Original Music: Clay Dolls

With: John Cronin and Caitríona Ní Mhurchú