Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London SW1
Opened 22 February, 2010

We may lament the atomisation of our society through technology, as we socialise on Facebook, work out on Wii and soundtrack our lives with iPods; others, however, embrace it. Anupama Chandrasekhar is the dramatist of India’s embrace. Her Free Outgoing, which premièred at the Royal Court in 2007, showed a societal scandal provoked by a virally circulated video shot on a mobile phonecam. Now Disconnect follows a team of operatives for a credit-card company’s telephone debt collection operation in Illinois... except that “Illinois” is a windowless room on the fourth floor of a call centre in Chennai. The callers construct American identities for themselves: Giri becomes Gary, Vidya is Vicki, and Ross ( Roshan) doesn’t even drop his Stateside accent when he’s offline.
It’s a Glengarry Glen Ross for our times: we hear the practised pitches, see the struggle to stay above water as payments secured by each caller are marked up on a board in pursuit of the ludicrously high targets that will secure the centre’s renewal of the card company’s contract in the run-up to the Fourth of July, and we witness how neither going by the book nor taking an individual line is a winning strategy. Supervisor Avinash (the ever-fine Paul Bhattacharjee) follows the manual in all respects, but this has already earned him a demotion from “New York” and it certainly fails to motivate his underlings. Ross (an assured professional stage début from Nikesh Patel) tries to cultivate a personal footing with his “marks”, but when his own version of the American Dream leads him to get too personal in one case, his misjudgement sets off a corporate avalanche.
Chandrasekhar has a fine ear for dialogue, and pulls off a number of sequences in which all three callers work their respective lines simultaneously. The big picture is rather fuzzier, though: the real/virtual identity matter yields a number of nice moments and observations but no defined thesis, and locating the building next to a giant landfill site isn’t the subtlest of symbols. The inherently static nature of the “action”, too, gives director Indhu Rubasingham nothing to work with, reducing her to making improbable changes of the configuration of the desks on John Napier’s box set between scenes. But Chandrasekhar has nous and ambition, and is worth watching at the very least.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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