REVIEW: Henchmen (Basement)

Review by Jackshen Lee

Henchmen, written by Amy Wright, and directed by Mark Chayanat Whittet, is a play that takes the audience into a corporate wonderland hellscape of co-worker small-talk, ‘friendly’ upper middle management, and pretending to look busy while doing absolutely nothing. Having been highly commended by the Playwrights b425 competition, this play is an amalgamation of Megamind mixed in with the corporate shenanigans of The Office. It is a crossover that is relatably funny whilst unavoidably thought-provoking as the play dives into the stark reality of corporate work in today’s age of capitalism.

Performed in the studio of Basement Theatre, the black box is transformed into an evil lair-like mail room situated at the base of a deadly volcano. The office is filled with your standard office furniture, company propaganda, and Post-It notes galore. A giant projector screen fills the backdrop, showing Dr. Diabolical’s (the evil overlord of Dr. D’s Evil Corporation) daily announcements. Walking into the theatre space, I noticed little easter eggs of parodied posters of classic kiwi ad campaigns from my youth such as Kindfree 2025 (parody of Smokefree 2025) plastered around the set.

The characters of the show, office workers Lou (Kate Johnstone) and Stevie (Sam Shannon), and Team Leader Sally (Awa Puna) do a great job of depicting the nature of working in a large white collar corporation, with Stevie working hard, Lou hardly working, and Sally checking in from time to time (as that is what team leaders are apparently supposed to do). I enjoyed the comedic energy the actors brought to the show. The over the top organ that bursts in whenever Sally enters and exits the stage reinforces both the villainous nature of the corporation and its hierarchy, while making the bit even more hilarious the longer the gag continues and repeats. 

What really captures the essence of the show is how Lou and Stevie bond as colleagues. As the old saying goes, opposites attract. Their deep friendship allows us to consider why people stay in such awful workplaces, and ultimately leads to the reason why Lou leaves the company – exiting not through the backstage but exiting the theatre space itself, taking control of her fate, powerfully tying off the play’s 70 minute run.

After the show’s end, Henchmen begs the question, does working in a ‘bad’ corporation make us inherently bad people? Can one really ‘do good evil’ as Dr D states? This is a particularly relevant question for Stevie who did not have much of a choice, working for a company like Dr D’s Evil Corporation may be her only way of survival no matter how she feels about the job. To add to this, what does it take to change the course capitalism has steered us in for so long? Lou indeed takes control by literally escaping the space, but what follows after is a mystery that is beyond the scope of the play. 

Overall, Henchmen mixes a capitalistic reality with villainous sci-fi to produce a show that comedically comments on the tragedy of the system we live and breathe in. It’s unfortunate that the season runs short, I believe it deserves a longer season. Regardless, I look forward to Wright’s future works given the impactful impression she made on this one.

Henchmen plays Basement Theatre 8th-12th August 2023

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