Theatre Review: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs - Waterloo East Theatre ✭✭✭

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs 
Waterloo East Theatre 

Review by Claire Spence

Thursday 7th February - The Waterloo East Theatre is a quant little venue which an estate agent might describe as ‘cosy’. The foyer/bar reminds me of the ‘theaters’ of New York that don’t waste expensive real estate on unnecessary areas. Housed in a railway arch, a constant smell of damp and the odd rumble of trains overhead remind you of the unusual setting. However, the theatrical space itself is a good size, and certainly for a one man show.

Performer, Edward Fromson, bursts onstage dressed in the style of Steve Jobs, save for an orange shirt. At first we are led to believe he is the man himself however it comes to pass that the nameless performer is a self-confessed geek simply relaying and re-enacting stories from the early life of Jobs and the beginning of the global empire which is Apple. This is interchanged with narration of the performer’s journey to Shanzen, a once humble fishing village in South Shanghai, now the world’s producing capital of technological goods, which feeds our thirst for all things electrical… But this all comes at a price: for the beautiful, shiny device in our pocket there is an underworld of 16 hour days, cramp conditions and a deadly silence amongst the workers of “Foxconn”, who, we are told, are responsible for producing 50% of our electrical goods, all handmade. But, the message is clear, “The way a product is made is crucial to the design”.

Fromson, recovering from a virus, gallantly went ahead with the production referring to his notes when needed. However, this sometimes made his performance slow and slightly laboured; yet, I am confident that once Fromson is back to good health his monologue will flow more efficiently. Personally, I thought there was a lot of unnecessary swearing, nevertheless, writer Mike Daisey’s humorous anecdotes raised more than one laugh from me and embodied the power, ruthlessness and genius of Steve Jobs and the desperate situation facing this foreign workforce.

I would have liked director Nasser Memarzia to have brought the performer downstage more often, as even though the fourth wall was broken with Fromson talking directly to the audience; he mainly stayed a safe distance from us behind a desk. Although the times he did make his way down to the front his face was slightly in the shadows.

The choices Designer Damien Stanton made were sufficient and simple for the size of the space; centre stage saw a white table and white chair, not too dissimilar to the Ikea variety and a clear bulb hanging directly overhead. White panels dropped diagonally from the wall down to the stage area. This neutral set was cleverly complimented by Derek Anderson’s lighting design which effectively denotes a change in time and place.

What I liked about this production of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (version 2.0) is it gets you thinking; seriously thinking about the conditions of these faceless workers in China and what it takes to get these sought-after devices in your possession. Importantly, contained within the programme is an information sheet detailing different ways in which you yourself can take action to make a change in this commonplace practice, so hopefully the production will not be in vain. I feel this is an important and poignant piece of theatre in today’s society of commercialism and consumerism. As Daisey writes, “In a world of silence, speaking is action”.

Three stars ✭✭✭

Listings Information

Producer: David Adkin in association with the Waterloo East Theatre. 
Venue: Waterloo East Theatre Brad Street London SE1
Dates: 5–24 February 2013; Tues-Sat at 7.30pm, Sun at 4pm.
Press Night: Thursday 7th February 2013 at 7.30pm
Tickets: £12/10. Previews (5th & 6th Feb) £10. Pay What You Can Night Tues 12th Feb. Box Office: / 020 7928 0060