The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was one of the hottest tickets at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Playwright Mike Daisy, a former Apple aficionado, based the one-man show on his real life experiences. Daisy had found on his brand new iPhone test photos taken inside the Apple factory. He began to wonder about the people who made his beloved Apple products and decided to undertake a pilgrimage to China to find out. His findings became The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Daisy has toured the US since 2010, performing the monologue himself. The production at the Fringe Festival was directed by Marcus Roche and performed by Grant O’Rourke.
The monologue presents the interlocking stories of the remarkable career of Steve Jobs, and the Apple factory workers in China. The play also developed the metaphor of Apple as a religion. I have been interested in this phenomenon since the outpouring of grief after Steve Jobs’ death, so I enjoyed seeing it dramatized. I continue to wonder why Apple inspires a uniquely fervent devotion and also a sense of identity among its consumers.
Predominantly, however, the play is interested in the conditions of the Chinese workers at the Apple factory. The details are disturbing, as they are meant to be. We learn that all Apple products are assembled by hand, and that they include pieces as small as a human hair. Employees start work from as young as twelve. By the time they are in their early twenties, many have lost the use of their hands. At the time of Daisy’s visit, the factory’s management had installed nets on the outside of the building to deal with the persistent problem of the employees committing suicide. In a country where unions are illegal and democracy does not provide an alternative course of action, the elevated suicide rates are comprehensible.
Grant O’Rourke is excellent as the Apple disciple who began to question his religion. He has the sardonic techie persona down to a tee. His performance was captivating and even funny, no easy feat in a play about corporate responsibility. As I was leaving the theatre, a man offered to give me his iPhone. I call that a successful show.