BATS Theatre
Sept 22-Oct 3 | Reviewed by Matthew Fairhurst

LOOSELY based on Lucy O’Brien’s time spent in a miserable mail-sorting centre, there is much in Postal that will be recognisable to anyone who has subjected themselves to the mind-numbing routine of public sector employment. Wisely, O’Brien avoids over-dependence on customer service in-jokes, and chooses instead to focus on the characters – the effect their incredibly mundane job has on their self-respect, and the coping strategies they bring in the attempt to maintain their identities despite the emptiness of their careers and their lives in general.

There is a disturbing emptiness to all of the characters that complements well the darker moments of this play. Despite the fine performances, which move effortlessly from outrageously comic to touchingly pathetic, it’s hard to sympathise with anyone really. As soon as I started to feel rapport with any of the characters, they revealed the simple fact that they were, at best, and despite their apparent best efforts, just not very likable.
This is not a criticism of either the performances or the script, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed – O’Brien’s refusal to romanticise the situations the characters found (or put) themselves in, or their responses to those situations, as well as her avoidance of the clichéd “so weird and quirky they’re actually cool” character type is highly refreshing.

Rashmi Pilapitiya’s portrayal of the passive/aggressive, overbearing middle manager Fanti was excellent – by which I mean I found myself gritting my teeth every time she opened her mouth – and her dramatic breakdown was as depressing as her earlier relentless (and unrealistic) optimism had been irritating. Simon Smith’s deadpan weirdness as Michael, office freak and obsessive philatelist, provided the biggest laughs; he seemed comfortably awkward in every scene. Particularly enjoyable was Paul Harrop’s committed and attentive portrayal of Celine, Michael’s internet/phone lover with “other things” (to use her words). Heather O’Carroll, although taking a while to settle in to the role of lonely, desperate and unnamed postal trainee, overall gave a more than adequate performance.

The set by Hannah Smith was simple and effective, as was the lighting (by Marcus McShane), and Kerryn Palmer’s direction was enjoyably to the point. The performance I saw took a while to get going – I sensed a certain hesitancy from the actors in the first third or so – but they quickly relaxed, and the final two-thirds was far more engaging. The only part of the production that didn’t satisfy me overly were a couple of intercut monologues, which I found contrived and a little predictable, everything else worked really well.

Postal is a depressing piece of work, and it’s also very sharp and funny. It’s not afraid to make the audience feel as uncomfortable as the characters, at times, and it certainly doesn’t offer any easy answers, but these are all things I like. O’Brien has skillfully subverted the genres she’s drawn on – there are no heroes, anti or otherwise – in this play, and weird exteriors are often likely to reveal unattractive, if fascinating, private attitudes. This is an enjoyable, interesting, and high-quality piece of theatre.