By Anna Hayes
Ah job interviews, we’ve all been there – we’ve had good ones that we thought went bad, bad ones that we thought went good, but we’ve probably (hopefully!) never had one quite like this…
Written and directed by James Hazelden, The Job Interview is, fairly unambiguously, a one-act play about a job interview between hard-nosed interviewer, Alex (if that’s her real name…) and interviewee Emma, a touch timid and eager to appeal to her interviewer’s vagaries but within reason.
Staged in La Mama HQ, the setting is a simple black box with a table and two chairs and one obvious entry point through the backdrop curtains. It’s a nice, tight space, perfect for psychological pieces like this where the tension can ratchet up, bit by bit and seem to manifest inside that space.
Sound is simple with just an intro tune – a mash-up of ‘Hit me baby one more time’ and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony that works very well; lighting is equally simple with just one change to facilitate Alex’s monologue toward the end of the show.
The play starts and ends on the same line of dialogue, a sentence that might seem innocuous enough at the beginning but takes on a new meaning by the end of the action. There’s an uneasy feeling right from the moment Emma joins Alex on the stage, from the latter’s initial ignoring of Emma to an awkward interaction where Emma realises she can’t remember Alex’s name!
There are some clever cultural references early on, coupled with some acerbic commentary on the inner workings of corporate life – I particularly liked the justification around how the human resources department because the human capital department.
The anecdote about Alex’s misunderstanding with a former staff member is also quite amusing, although the ‘lost in translation’ aspect of it may have been slightly overplayed, taking a bit of gloss off the final punchlines.
From there, it’s a fairly rapid descent into a world lacking any kind of reason. A simple word association game becomes a damning accusation of racism against an aghast Emma, while a question about weaknesses prompts Alex to admit to fantasies about murdering her husband. It’s an exclamation that doesn’t come out of the blue – we see hints of the unhinged in Alex from early on, and seemingly safe topics of discussion tangent off into bizarre endpoints.
As things turn desperate, the ending is cleverly done – I won’t give it away here but it changes an audience’s perception of the play because we realise that the action is anchored in a skewered version of reality.
It’s a play that reminded me of a couple of other titles – a group I was involved with at home in Ireland produced a play called The Audition by James Johnson which is a very similar offering – a young actor attends a dramatic and highly unorthodox audition that plays out with similar psychological warfare to the events of The Job Interview.
Another comparison I drew was with a particular episode of Black Mirror, I can’t tell you which one because it would almost certainly ruin the plot twist but, if you’ve watched the TV series you’ll recognise the episode once you’ve watched this play.
Kathryn Tohill is compelling in the role of Alex, the interviewer. She has a strong presence on stage and great facial expressions – a compliment that also extends to Esther Myles as Emma, especially during Tohill’s monologue. Tohill’s portrayal pokes a lot of fun at the corporate sphere and she transitions well from disgruntled career girl to full-blown psychopath.
Myles does well as the young interviewee who is completely out of her depth, primarily because the pool she’s jumped into is full of sharks. But her role is limited which feels a little bit of a waste in a two-hander. Much of her early dialogue is made up of one and two-word answers. We never get a clear sense that Emma, as the blurb says, “doesn’t want the job”, mainly because we don’t really get any sense of who Emma is at all – it’s as if she doesn’t exist outside of the interview room.
Personally, I felt like the crazy came in just a little too early, and at the expense of any character development that Emma might have had. It also reduced the opportunities for tension-building because it was clear early on that Alex was NQR – not quite right.
The twist does some heavy lifting to offset this and it does end the play on a darker note, but I would have liked to see a little more development of the Emma character to give her a more robust sane voice amongst the madness.