It is the oldest conundrum in politics: when fighting for power, does there come a moment when the means finally invalidate the ends, or does squeamishness over the means always indicate an unfitness to wield power? The power in question in Paolo Chianta’s “The 3rd Sector,” which is currently playing at the Pleasance, is that of saving thousands of lives by promoting and assisting the donation of human organs. But how much do Chianta’s charity workers really want this? Their charity is a slick corporate mover and they use gruesome, exploitative marketing campaigns to engage with the public. Once the new girl around the office, Marlin (Isla Lindsay) baulks at apparent fraud, then we have to decide whether “doing good” is still virtuous when the charity is in the wrong.
The charity’s slogan “donate a piece of yourself” potentially applies to its staff and the forfeit of their souls. The moral of this is, however, snappy: a conscience is the very last thing that you should have if you want your charity to succeed.
With its murky finances and lack of democratic accountability, the UK’s “third sector” has been due a satirical walloping for some time, but Chianta’s play might seem insufficiently cold or ruthless to be trusted with this. The charity workers mostly get their hair ruffled rather than their heads kicked in. Felix (David Biddle), the former rock-star and current Buddha who has set up the charity, is supremely good and kind. The play has no hope of functioning as satire because it ultimately asserts, with Bolshevik grimness, that bad behaviour is permissible if it works.
Earlier reviews were unimpressed by “The 3rd Sector,” but maybe the play has got into shape since then. For me, this play was pacy and always very funny. Even during the sad scenes the action did not slow down. All the right calculations have been made to produce Toby Manley’s character Josh, an energetic Pepsi salesman who is now out of his depth in the charity industry. Julie Frost is also very good as the brains behind the charity.
Mind you, I suppose that this play does not want to persuade you to cancel all of your direct debits immediately after the show. The conclusion that charities are provisionally immoral but in the end effective has at least the advantage of offering reassurance.