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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Royal Court Theatre Upstairs    February-March 2010

This new play from Anupama Chandrasekhar, author of three years ago's Free Outgoing, looks at a world most of us are only tangentially aware of, but its value and interest as a peep behind the curtain outweigh its virtues as drama.

Her attention is on an India-based call centre, where young Indians assume names like Ross, Gary and Vicki, along with carefully cultivated American accents, to badger customers with overdue bills to an American credit card company.

We watch them in their windowless room, under the baleful eye of a fearing-for-his-own-job supervisor who times their toilet breaks and holds them to impossible quotas, as they alternately demand, cajole, beg, threaten, joke or offer financial and personal advice, to get some promise of some payment from their unseen 'marks'.

That much is interesting, and some of the playwright's inventions ring quite true, such as the idea that these faux-Americans would hold a Fourth Of July party in which they came dressed as their imagined avatars.

If you've ever had to phone your bank and deal with someone dubiously named Brad, Chandrasekhar's play might even inspire a bit of sympathy for the voice at the other end of the line.

But all this is ultimately just the background for the play, whose central plot is both improbable and uninvolving. The most hard-nosed guy on the phone bank inexplicably falls in love with a mark's voice and begins to fantasise a meeting and life together between her and his imaginary American self.

Rather than exploring the psychological possibility of falling for one's own lies, or developing the Pirandellian reality-illusion theme, Chandrasekhar just presents this as a plot twist with repercussions when the woman at the other end of the line complains of harassment.

But even that doesn't take the play anywhere, as the ending is almost exactly what it would have been without this plot line, with a contract everyone feared would be lost being lost and those who you might have picked at the start to be fired being fired.

With all but one of the characters essentially background atmosphere, no one in the cast can really create a reality or make much impression.

Even Nikesh Patel as the lovesick lad can't make much sense out of his character, though the actor does have one very strong scene as the boy has to employ all his telephone skills to frantically try to improvise his way out of the hole he's dug.

Gerald Berkowitz

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