Tightrope theatre company’s Dining Al Desko is a comedy which borders into absurdity which borders into the tragedies of working a 9-to-5 desk job, in a crashing economy which is giving half its staff promotions and the other half redundancies. Through the three inter-weaving monologues of Trish the marketing intern, Julie the office receptionist and Tom the one-man finance department, we’re played out the idiosyncrasies of the open-plan office (the shredding, the stapling, the obsessive sorting system of the bics and biros) before being exposed to the underlying sinister goings-on in the workplace.
Scenes are linked with short blackouts, jolly music and the title of each scene which is projected onto the back of the stage. Some of these last a few minutes, others achieve great comic effect by only lasting a few seconds; the snack, for instance, as Julie (India Opzoomer) relishes on a Pretcroissant, getting quickly interrupted by the always-inconvenient ringing telephone. The desk at the centre of the stage is complete with all the necessities: the piles of coloured post-it notes, the waving cactus miniature and the iconic office plant.
Alastair Curtis’s script is complete with some cracking lines, as we’re described the ‘crusted orange skid mark’ that’s left a stain on the staff microwave or the worker who says they ‘tried pulling the plugs but the phones were cordless’. The narratives are sustained with action as we’re made aware of the passing of time with characters referencing each other in their own monologues. The force of the invisible boss who we never see but who clearly has a big impact on the lives of all the employees is ever-looming; this device, and that of the monologue-structure, really pushes the characters into isolation with the audience, making us sympathetically aware of their own isolation and feelings of insecurity within their jobs. The only odd thing is that sometimes the actors choose to make eye contact with us, other times they look above our heads. I think either works fine, but a clearer choice on this should probably be made. I really enjoy the eye-contact; it’s a small studio space, and the play verges on a feeling of real intimacy, which I just think would heighten the tension a little bit more.
Opzoomer’s comic timing is spot-on; the moment when she accidentally walks into a stapler and apologises to it is hilarious (this might very well have been a mistake; if it was, it works!). Mia Georgis (Trish) plays hilariously with the archetypal marketing character, who is “v trendy”, and really draws us in as her story becomes a little darker. Christopher Page (Tom) as the only member of the finance team who has been demoted to an office in the basement is full of anger and, eventually, menace. He perhaps plays to the text a little too much towards the end rather than against it, which might prove that little bit more absurd, but overall passionately captures the essence of the depressed finance worker when the shit really hits the fan.
The play shifts really effectively from a light-hearted comedy to something that’s really not so funny. Despite its comical take on the office environment, it really says a lot about the state of employment and the over-worked nature of so many office workers up and down the country; the marketing intern who quickly progresses through the hierarchy, eventually becoming the Head of HR, for no other reason than the company can’t afford to pay someone to do the job properly. Responsibilities end up slipping through the cracks, and whilst workers end up over-stretched and underpaid, cases of workplace harassment hardly have time to be dealt with, with the workers having to put up a fight for themselves in order to survive.
It’s a tightly packed sixty minutes of the tragedies and comedies of working at a desk job and should make for a real treat at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Review by Joseph Winer
A critically-acclaimed comedy about the struggles of working life.
In a busy open-plan office, three desperately ineffectual employees bullshit and backstab their way through the ranks of big business, in pursuit of fame, fortune and the approval of their elusive boss. Prepare for a nine-to-five like no other in this ’hysterical’ (The Sunday Times) and ’completely astounding’ (Noises Off) workplace satire by Alastair Curtis.
Writer: Alastair Curtis
Director: Philippa Lawford
Producer: Steve Kunis
Graphic Design: Kate Weir
Lighting: Alex Jacobs
Projection and Sound: Cassie White