Victor Beautule is known as the ‘coming man’ on his way to the top. He isn’t from a humble background nor has he the studied insouciance of the English aristocracy. He’s a man from the middle, the lower middle, and bitter about the elites he perceives above him. His contempt for the lower orders is unbounded.
When Vanessa, one of his many girlfriends, whose heart he knowingly broke, accuses him of being emotionally illiterate, unable to put himself in the place of ‘the other’, and having the compassion of a stone gnome he takes this as a challenge. When he receives a personal email promoting a very expensive two-day residential course ‘Empathy for Success’ he sees a way of meeting that challenge and quickly enrols.
Once inside Wandelsham Hall, he discovers, with delight, that it’s even more exclusive than he had hoped: there are only four participants. The therapist, Melvyn, will lead the participants who are Rupert, Nigel, Victor and Natasha – no surnames are shared. Natasha looks vaguely familiar to Victor, but she’s not pretty enough for him to remember who she is, even though she reeks of entitlement.
There are two sessions a day, structured around role plays based on counselling scenarios: each participant will be, in turn, ‘the sufferer’, the counsellor and observer.
On Saturday, Victor first plays the role of ‘sufferer’. He’s pleased with his performance but worries he’s revealed too much of himself. Natasha plays the role of counsellor; her condescension, verging on boredom, irritates him, but he bites his tongue. Later, as an observer he thinks he’s done a fine job. Natasha, the other observer, tells him his observations are trite.
On Saturday evening he dines alone. There is no sign of the others; he’s perplexed, Perhaps they couldn’t afford full board? I can, so that’s fine.
During the last session on the Sunday he is counsellor and Natasha ‘sufferer’. Her portrayal of a betrayed utterly bereft wife is superb and, alarmingly, touches a nerve, reminding Victor of how women have reacted to his behaviour toward them. Natasha screams, Help me! Victor shouts, For fuck’s sake, woman, pull yourself together, you pathetic spoilt upper class cow! I don’t blame him for shagging someone else.
Natasha holds up her hand. Hush. Hush. It’s role-play, Victor. You’ve forgotten that and also forgotten who I am, haven’t you? I’m the wife of the minister, your boss, and, as it happens, Vanessa’s sister.
The penny drops. Who are you people?
Vanessa’s brother, Rupert says.
Her other brother, Nigel adds.
I’m their uncle, Melvyn says.
That’s why you weren’t at dinner?
Natasha smiles. Yes, this is our family home. We were in our own quarters, while you were feeding your face. Vanessa’s right, you’re an utterly self-centred prick and I think I can fairly say that your career is fucked. I’ll see to that. You can go now.
I hate you privileged bastards!
That’s to be expected. Gladly you’ll never be one of us. Goodbye.
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