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A CurtainUp London London Review

You can't make money by following the script. There is no formula for collecting. You've got to play it by ear, you've got to invest something, a bit of yourself, you've got to be creative. — Ross
Nikesh Patel as Ross, Ayesha Dharker as Vidya and Neet Mohan as Giri (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
This is the second play from Chennai based writer Anupama Chandrasekhar to appear at the Royal Court. Her first play there Free Outgoing was about new technology and the clash of cultures and although her second Disconnect is very different, it also could be described as East meeting West through technology.

All the characters in Disconnect work in an Indian Call Centre for an American Bank based in Buffalo, called "True Blue". Vidya (Ayesha Dharker), Giri (Neet Mohan) and Ross (Nikesh Patel) chase the debts of the bank's credit card "Helium" by phoning up customers in the USA, in Illinois. They pretend to be Americans, adopt American names, use American accents and at least one of them would like to move to the USA. Paul Bhattarcharjee plays Avinash, their middle aged supervisor, himself under pressure to perform better from the woman manager, Jyothi (Hasina Haque). Avinash is someone who has never attempted to master the American ethos or accent.

We all have had lots of experience of technical help from call centres in India and the Philippines but these workers are chasing debt payments in the middle of a recession. They can monitor the spending habits of those who owe money to the credit card company and may comment on the expensive holidays of someone failing to make repayments. They alternately harangue and cajole to get agreements to pay out of the clients, whom they call their "marks". They attempt to meet near impossible targets set by management, work ten hour days with very few breaks and have little diversion other than the contact with Americans but still keep good humoured. They work on the same floor of an office block with no windows next to a rubbish dump. Taking on American culture, they drink Coke and celebrate Independence Day which of course for them is not a holiday.

Nikesh Patel remarkably is in his first theatrical role as Roshan, now Ross, and he fantasises about card debtor Sara, an American librarian from Springfield but ignores the advances of beautiful Vidya sitting next to him, telling us that she is too dark skinned. Serious minded and rather dour, Avinash tells everyone that they are helping the global economy by sorting out the debt problems of Americans. The threat to move the call centre to the Philippines is ever present, job security is precarious in Chennai.

Some of the dialogue is spoken simultaneously as, on headsets, the three telephonists make contact with their marks, sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's sad. John Napier's set can be varied as the desks rotate and the supervisor's desk moves to give a view of the office from another angle. The walls are papered with final demands and receipts, the target white board dominating the back wall. Indhu Rubasingham injects variety into the drama by placing the actors and animating the performances so that we may experience some of the hectic pressure in the call centre and the camaraderie between the workers.

The acting is convincing as the Indian workers pull together as a team but ultimately the litigious Americans will always have the upper hand. The Indian workers have impossible targets to meet and yet are subject to American legislation to protect the customers of banks. However the Indian employees do not have the luxury of American employment protection. There are some super performances from the young cast in this original dramatic look at the rapidly expanding Asian call centre sector.

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Written by Anupama Chandrasekhar
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Starring: Paul Bhattacharjee
With: Hasina Haque, Ayesha Dharker, Neet Mohan, Nikesh Patel
Design: John Napier
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick
Sound: David McSeveney
Running time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 20th March 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th February 2010 performance at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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