Did we like it?
An uncomfortably accurate affirmation of Sartre’s vision of Hell, which sacrificed laughs on the altar of skin-crawling realism.
What was good about it?
• The fact it was an excellent cast acted both in favour of The Lift and against it. Rasmus Hardiker is perhaps the best young comic actor in the country, however, he played the role of Rocco with such pathos that he became as irritating as any teenager seems to an audience of middle-aged conservatives (the BBC4 target audience). He spoke in an intelligible, derivative patois (“Man, this is a well-phat dilemma”) which skinned him of any sympathy as it seemed to have come directly from the RSC stopping off in Brixton only for a cup of tea and some scones. He did, however, have one of the best sporadic one-liners when he claimed he was afraid of paper and “had to do my GCSEs on an Etch-A-Sketch”.
• The same problem existed with Douglas Hodge’s Paul, an uptight TV licence inspector who was like a human version of a cream cake being overcooked in the oven. Yet instead of cream spurting from every weakened egress in the pressurised intensity, from Paul spilt forth casual racism and intolerance.
• While rarely funny, The Lift did manage to snare perfectly that loathsome false sense of community that originates when a group of strangers find themselves trapped together, especially the collective sense of relief when they all believed they were about to be rescued. We remember once being trapped in a local train while a faster train pulled in on the opposite platform and that long-buried sense of annoyance as, banging on the locked doors, commuters made inane, waggish quips that would curdle even the features of Ronald MacDonald into diabolic apoplexy, yet as you didn’t want to offend them you choked a laugh.
• Well, this sense was reborn as each of the characters rejoiced in their imminent rescue after about five hours of entrapment quipping lame jokes, apologising for earlier indiscretions and these indiscretions accordingly being batted away as trivialities mixed with excruciating choruses of Ten Green Bottles, Que Sera Sera and Bohemian Rhapsody. And it was a fitting finale when the doors opened only a little only to slam shut when Paul banged them. After half-an-hour with these people we would gladly have laughed had the punch-line been that the lift plummeted to the bottom of the shaft killing them all – or better still taken inspiration from Omen 2 (a scene that made us always use the stairs for about two years after we saw it).
• As the ordeal wore on each of them seemed to regard the others less as human beings but more viruses that could talk who would sporadically infect one of the others for a few moments of burning irritation.
• Other funny moments included Sunita (Nina Wadia) selfishly calculating that the first lift engineer to arrive injuring himself by falling down the lift shaft “that he is alive and they have to come for him”, and so also rescue them into the bargain; Christabel (Siobhan Redmond), Paul and Rocco eating cough sweets as they are all they had in the way of food; and Sunita’s anecdote about how when she was trapped in a lift in Greece they were in there for so long they eventually ended up eating a pack of playing cards.
What was bad about it?
• Because the cast played out their roles so well, they dragged the viewer into their claustrophobia so instead of standing back and laughing at the absurdity of the situation you felt as if you were in the lift with them – and that is the last place on Earth you wanted to be.
• Some episodes did feel a little bit unnecessary and were only included to bump the time up to the required 28 minutes such as when Rocco was on Paul’s shoulders searching for a way out.
• Given that the clock on the lift security camera ran from about 9am to 1pm, why did the trapped characters feel the need to go to bed; they surely couldn’t have been tired unless it was the oxygen deprivation trapped in a lift veteran Sunita had mentioned earlier.
Tight Spot: HR – An Appraisal, BBC4
Wednesday 7 March 2007
Did we like it?
A lacerating appraisal of soulless modern business verbiage and euphemisms acted out by two masters of their craft.
What was good about it?
• As the jittery Peter timidly entered the office of Sam, the head of HR (“We’re not called ‘personnel anymore’.”), it was furnished with the architecture of a civilisation on the brink of collapse. Drooping, apologetic plants rubbed shoulders with printers weeping leaf after leaf of blank white paper, while a ‘water cooler’ stood against a wall like an abandoned animal carcass waiting for the flock of besuited vultures to gather to discuss last night’s EastEnders.
• Jonathan Pryce as Peter seemed to be reprising his role from Brazil as a downtrodden, unappreciated office clerk who is in trouble thanks to one moment of impetuous recklessness in which he has let slip the mask of corporate politeness and virulently insulted a client, Mr Fish, with an hour’s worth of profanities. But instead of being tortured by Michael Palin in a mask, he must face the altogether more terrifying ordeal of an assessment for his upcoming appraisal with the head of HR.
• While on television, the format, script, sparse single location gave it much more the feel of a theatrical play. What’s more, the absence of almost any physical action meant that its quality relied almost entirely on Nigel Williams’ script – which was brilliant. It opened with Sam hinting at “certain things” Peter may have done in the course of his job that may lead to a poor appraisal, hoping to elicit a confession from his old friend.
• Sam (Nigel Le Provost) eventually revealed to Peter that it involved a call from Mr Fish of SPUK. “SPUK?” queried Peter. “They do packaging… in the UK,” Sam replies drolly. Eventually Peter remembered them as “a wholly owned subsidiary of European Design Facilities”, who “offer facilities in design… for Europeans”.
• As Sam prepares to play the incriminating tape recording of the telephone call, Peter protests of Mr Fish, “Is he allowed to go around abusing people without being recorded at his end?” And then the pair wait as the tape hisses silently. “Is it a hostile silence, Sam?” Peter asks.
• The convoluted, senseless terminology of modern business that seems lost in a labyrinth of its own myopic pomposity such as when Sam urged Peter: “Listen to your own performance, assess your performance, and then give me feedback on your assessment so we can feed it into your appraisal.”
• About halfway through, the balance of power shifts as Sam blurts out about his own fears for his own job, and that “the people upstairs” might have heard him wail “I do not want a naked man in my office” after Peter partially strips to allay Sam’s belief that he is wired as a ruse that will form part Sam’s upcoming appraisal.
• And Sam’s paranoia is exacerbated when the door to his office is opened. This leads to his suspicion that his assistant (“but she doesn’t like to be called ‘my assistant’”) is trying to usurp his position and he cowers in the office while he and Peter feverishly formulate a plan that will enable him to close the door in a natural fashion.
• There were a number of allusions to the fact that in the same way in which people were, and still are, oppressed by a rootless religious fear of damnation if they don’t act according to the strict, dogmatic laws then they will suffer eternal torment in the bowels of Hell, or in this case be fired (“Only they won’t call it that; ‘we’ll cut you a deal’ or ‘we’re going to have to let you go’”).
• But in an optimistic conclusion, perhaps after convincing each other they’re doomed anyway, Sam agrees to bury the tape and they then play out the artificial, pointless, insincere rigmarole of the pre-appraisal assessment.
What was bad about it?
• Because of the half-hour length, some of the simmering rage about modern business practices became too compacted and that on occasions aspects weren’t able to blossom into the diatribes of lethal poison they could have become. While at other times, there seemed to be too many targets and the ire aimed at each became blurred through the sheer haste to attack as many as possible.