‘A harrowing yet hilarious tale exploring the legality and morality of electronic sweatshops in China, complete with armed guards, underage workers and an insight into the toxic effects of hexane’, describes The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs – which arrives in Bristol this month.
Starring Grant O’Rourke, the play, written by Mike Daisey, comprises a monologue is an emboldened, passionate diatribe that will make you question what you thought you knew about one of the world’s most worshipped brands. This is one of the most talked about pieces of theatre to come out of the USA in the last few years and has not been without controversy.
“The story is told from the point of view of a self confessed ‘Apple fanboy’ who adores the technology so much that he travels to China to find out how they’re actually made,’ says O’Rourke. “When he’s there he discovers some surprising things about the manufacture of not only Apple products, but also of the electronics that we all use on a daily basis. It’s interspersed with a potted history of Steve Jobs and Apple and so we get to “meet” him along the way but I don’t have to transform myself to become him or anything. There isn’t a black turtle neck in sight.”
So just how has Apple captured the minds and hearts of a generation? O’Rourke said: “The thing about Apple products that make them unique is Steve Jobs himself, I think. He was so gifted at making people need things that they previously never even knew they wanted. So many Apple designs have become industry standards now that we forget that they had to be introduced in the first place. Modern home computers wouldn’t exist as we know them without the original 1984 Macintosh but even when you consider how invaluable an iPod has become to so many people, the thought of listening to your music on a walkman seems ridiculous and old fashioned by comparison. Jobs and Apple did that simple, seemingly impossible thing: products that were nice to look at, easy to use, enhanced your life and became indispensible as a result.”
And what of the political comment element, how much research went into the play? O’Rourke said: “The writer Mike Daisey went to China and spoke to the workers who made the products that he loved so much. This is Mike Daisey’s story and it’s an account of what happened to him. Although I’m not playing Daisey as such, the story is based on fact and real life events collated from a number of sources and is weaved together into a single story. It’s written in a style that Daisey calls ‘poetic journalism’: many, but not all of the events happened to him but everything in the story is absolutely true.”
Viewers can expect to come face to face with a surprising conclusion. O’Rourke says: “What seems to have startled audiences most frequently is the reality of how our electronic products are made. The factory that the character visits makes almost 50% of all the electronics in the world. This is a story that genuinely affects you and I and everyone we know. If you grab any random piece of electronic technology in your house and take it apart, there’s a strong chance that there will be a stamp with this factory’s name on it. We’re all complicit, even if it is unknowingly, in this gigantic, global issue and thats something that stays with you.”
The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is on at The Brewery Theatre, Bristol, from April 23 – May 4, 2013. Tickets £11adv. More info at www.tobaccofactorytheatre.com