The eponymous George is a high-flying young girl: bright and creative and, more than anything, playful. But we can’t stay kids forever – and as George grows bigger, the pressures of the world begin to loom large too. Life becomes work and friends become tools, in this cynically comic and athletically physical reflection of the rat-race of modern society.
At first, it feels a distinctively millennial story; an outpouring of anxiety about how crowded the job market is, how difficult it is to get a foot on the ladder, and how your peers and one-time friends seem to be racing ahead of you. In the allegorical society George lives in, the lucky few get a single chance in life: an interview with a mysterious figure called J, who alone has the power to grant you success. J doesn’t seem to be inherently unkind, or especially capricious… it’s just that millions of people are trying to catch J’s eye, and fortune falls inequitably on those he happens to favour.
The opening is thought-provoking too, highlighting what’s maybe the last great taboo: that even in this age of candour, it’s forbidden to ask someone how much they earn. But these interesting themes aren’t explored as deeply as they might be, dissolving instead into a relatively timeless tale of a country-dweller coming to the city, and of how a career can crowd out the more important things in life. While there’s a satisfying circularity to the conclusion, it’s also kind of predictable: there’s not much here that hasn’t been pointed out many times before.
The circus-like physicality is often very funny, and always impressive, though not all of it feels entirely justified by context and on this particular occasion, some of the synchronisation isn’t quite spot-on. In one well-developed recurring theme, we see the still-young George struggle to hang onto the delight of play; her career is charted by a tower of Duplo bricks, nicely reminding us of the innocence she has lost. An evocative scene where she’s bundled into a sack captures her initial distress, yet before long she’s learned and accepted the dog-eat-dog ways of the city.
There’s a lot to like about GEORGE, and there’s no doubt that the faceless J is a potent symbol for our times. It could do a little more to develop its own moral and message – but it’s the first full-length show from the nascent Contingency Theatre, and it bodes well for their work to come.