Working for charity is a tough break. Repeatedly trying to convince sceptical, cynical, and sometimes downright selfish people to part with their money for a good cause can grow disheartening very quickly. The role of “charity-muggers”, people who interrupt you on the street to sign you up for charities you may have never heard of, stretch the ethical boundaries of charity work. Michael Becker and Ian Warwick’s new script uncovers the unsavoury attitudes behind charities and their sell tactics.
Eve (Barbara Papathanasopoulos) and Lucia (Dominique Purdue) have their own reasons for working for Earth’s Children, a charity that provides money to children and their communities internationally: Eve thinks that she should want to help people but is also generally unsure about her goals and aspirations while Lucia knows exactly how she feels about veganism, waste and single-use plastic, poverty, and capitalism but is unclear about how to spread her message other than one-on-one with strangers. New girl Chloe (Skye Beker) has just joined the Earth’s Children team and is quickly showing herself to be a star salesperson but her hostility towards her co-workers and cut-throat manipulation indicate she’s more interested in her cash bonuses than in poverty eradication. All three charity workers paint an unsettling picture about the nature of charities and call into question their ethics and effectiveness in the long run.
Based on Warwick and Becker’s personal experiences working for charities, the script comprises a number of vignettes of interactions between the Earth’s Children staff and potential donors. While these interactions are true to life and often very humorous in the way they capture a range of public reactions, they suffer from the repetition of subjecting the audience to the Earth’s Children sell over and over again. The variation between potential donors and brief glimpses into Eve, Chloe, and Lucia’s life are not enough to maintain the production, especially for the 95 minute length. Additionally, long pauses between each sell and attempts by the staff at small-talk dampen any driving narrative arc and stutters the critical thrust of the script.
Direction from Becker, who also plays Earth’s Children manager Marcus, finds the dramatic link between sales and theatre in the commonality of audience reading and emotional manipulation but too much focus on real-world recreation and not theatrical narrative meant the connections didn’t build to a meaningful conclusion.
Characterisation of the charity staff was clear and consistent but could have benefited from more information about the characters’ underlying motivations and personal lives. Purdue plays the snarky self-righteous well, especially in contrast to Becker’s nearly predatory “good-guy” persona. Beker as Chloe offers a stand-out performance as a sharp and vicious salesperson seemingly in the game for an ego trip and her pivots from friendly pitch to uninterested stranger are brutal. Jarryd Dobson who plays a flirtatious fellow staff member of the shopping centre was a breath of fresh air in his genuine engagement with Eve and much larger backstory than any other potential donor. But, that being said, the flamboyance of his performance and the dead-end of his relationship with Eve meant he felt out of place, as though a passing visitor from another play entirely, particularly considering how much stage time his character had. The format of short vignettes means the audience is offered small moments of the characters’ lives which works for punchlines but not narrative substance.
Charities and charity-muggers seem an inevitable part of modern life when everyone has encountered the door-knockers, mailbox flyers, tv commercials, and donation tables. With so much exposure to the public, though, not many people would have experienced the underbelly of working for a charity and Warwick and Becker’s new play attempts to reveal the not-so-charitable aspects of this industry. While accurately recreating the charity worker’s experience, How to Change the World and Make Bank Doing It lacks a larger narrative impetus which leaves its characters feeling insubstantial.
How to Change the World and Make Bank Doing It is running at Limelight on Oxford from April 17th – 27th