The 'office comedy': mastered in 'The Office' and storming the Fringe this year in Blam!; here that well-loved genre takes on a new guise in the first theatre adaptation of Danish film director Lars Von Trier's The Boss of It All. All office comedy is inevitably concerned with the challenge of being a popular boss; the difficulty of integrating while in charge. The wit and imagination behind The Boss of It All, however, make it completely refreshing.
Ravn (Ross Armstrong) has the boss schtick down to a T. He's efficient, he's popular and his good reputation can even weather the distribution of redundancies and cancellation of office trips. It sounds too good to be true but, unlike David Brent's delusion of popularity, Ravn's is completely real: his staff really do love him. Ravn's situation, however, is not without fallacy: it depends on the fact that he isn't seen as a boss. For Ravn has always pretended to be taking orders from an absent superior: a company manager whose character he has constructed - differently - for each worker via email. When a business deal demands that this boss materialises in the office itself, Ravn still can't come clean. Instead, he hires Kristoffer (Gerry Howell), an out of work actor, to play the role.
Gerry Howell as Kristoffer is excellent. Naively inspired by the commission - 'It's so Gambini!' - Kristoffer is both puppyish and pretentious. He's wonderfully infuriating as an egocentric actor, yet it's a delight to watch when he turns out to be completely adept at the role. The ease with which Kristoffer masters the art of nonsense office jargon and leadership bravado sees the writing covering well-worn ground - targeting boss, office, and theatre. But it's laugh out loud nonethelesss.
Kristoffer's interaction with the staff breeds some less familiar gags and, thanks to the fantastic staff cast, these are some of the best scenes. While Kate Kordel's Lise - sexy, disdainful, convinced she knows the truth - perhaps pushes Kristoffer to the most predictably unlikely feat (no spoiler), our credulity is (willingly) pushed even further by the demands of the bereaved Mette, played with excellent mania by Anna Bolton. James Rigby, meanwhile, manages to pull off terrifying menace and violence with exactly the right amount of cartoonish comedy in the character of Gorm - he's equally good when playing an inoffensive translator in the business deal scenes.
But Tom McHugh is the star. In the role of the painfully timid staff member Nalle, McHugh is so anxious, so obedient, so completely pathetic. McHugh has the perfect face for such a man; the perfect brow, the perfect bowed head. He's absolutely nothing like the Icelandic big dog bully businessman Finnur, who is trying to buy Ravn's company. Finnur is aggressive, sarcastic, witty, disdainful... so different, in fact, that I failed to realise McHugh was playing both roles until over halfway through. It's amazing what a change of footwear, the addition of a pair of sunglasses and a suit can do when you've got such a good actor.
While excellent, this show is not flawless. Ross Armstrong as Ravn never quite nails the comic timing the writing demands. Further, the mysterious Voice, which introduces, occasionally commentates, and concludes the show - with the tone of an apathetic chorus member - is not quite as amusing as I wanted it to be. That said, maybe I just didn't like him because I sensed he was ultimately the boss of it all.
Though quite heavy on ideas and concepts, The Boss of It All aims and manages to be essentially lighthearted. It's a joy to watch and, for my money, the best office comedy on at the Fringe this year.