The Boss of it All, Soho Theatre, London – review

Let’s not over-think things. The first British stage adaptation of a Lars von Trier film is a version not of one of the Dane’s gloomier and/or more controversial works, but of his comparatively relaxed 2006 comedy Direktøren for det hele. The boss of a Danish IT company, who has never admitted to his colleagues that he is the boss, hires an actor to play the role in negotiations to sell the business to an Icelandic firm.

Neither Von Trier’s film nor Jack McNamara’s adaptation (first seen in this production by his New Perspectives company on last year’s Edinburgh Fringe) is at all taxing. Over 80 minutes we canter through a clutch of easy stereotypes from the folders marked “Luvvies” and “Business gibberish” respectively. No wonder Von Trier has a reputation as an unsympathetic director if this is what he really believes actors are like, but the mileage here lies in the notion that these two jargons are fundamentally the same kind of hot air. When Kristoffer – or rather, his boardroom character Svend – presides over an IT symposium, he convinces all his “colleagues” by simply giving his own nonsensical musings free rein and finding that they happen to sound plausible in this context as well. As with Peter Sellers’ character Chauncey Gardiner in Being There, the people around him want to believe in him.

Gerry Howell’s Kristoffer is deliciously self-absorbed; you get the impression that his first words as an infant were probably “What’s my motivation?” The logistics of small-scale touring have dictated a cast of only six, with a corresponding distillation of office archetypes: the stroppy one, the diffident one (male), the diffident one (female, Anna Bolton making more of her silences than her few brief lines) and the vamp, plus Ross Armstrong as mastermind Ravn, desperate to remain everybody’s friend even as he sells their company and their intellectual property out from under them.

The climax, as Kristoffer’s unpredictability becomes the determining factor in the sales deal, adds some bite here, whereas in a darker piece one would feel justified in pointing out its flaws. This, though, is simply what Google Translate tells me is lidt af en latter: a bit of a giggle, in Danish.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.