The most difficult aspect of SharkLegs’ most recent production is that it’s very funny, far funnier than the subject matter should have you expect. Fulfilment exposes Amazon’s treatment of its ‘fulfilment centre’ employees, who are as close to working under modern slavery conditions as is perhaps legally possible. Claire Parry is superb as the voice of a puppet called Robox, an AI robot obsessed with fulfilling the dreams of its owners. Parry’s interactions with the crowd are genuinely hilarious, with a passing reference to Nina Conti a nice self-aware nod.
This is juxtaposed with verbatim accounts from former and current Amazon employees, played mostly by Phoebe Hyder and Ronan Cullen, which take the audience into the reality of that world. It’s a job of long hours and little money, where breaks are dangerously short and targets are unreasonably high. It isn’t just left to the verbatim text though – all three performers sprint around the auditorium, taking items out of one box and into another, mimicking the frenetic nature of the job. It’s exhausting to watch.
As the verbatim accounts grow in severity, Robox also starts to evolve into something more sinister. The irony of destroying one person’s life to bring to someone else’s isn’t left to subtlety by creators Kezia Cole and Richard Hay – everything is laid out for the audience in a matter-of-fact way, eliciting a deserved feeling of unease and guilt. Robox’ increasingly grating niceness is balanced by the disdain with which he talks to his employees, and the audience go from loving this cute robot to resenting it.
That SharkLegs manages to retain so much humour throughout the piece is a great achievement, because there isn’t a lot to laugh at by the end. Hyder provides a stunning last salvo, the highlight of the piece, bringing a very strong production to a close with a bang. It looks like the 2019 Fringe will be dominated by pieces about climate change and mental health, which are both very important. Fulfilment is a reminder that modern slavery in the UK is also still thriving, and deserves our attention too.