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Left My Desk by Lost Watch at the New Diorama Theatre

Left my deskWhat is your opinion of Social Workers? Mentioning them usually causes one of two reactions; support or antagonism. Even 1980s sitcom Yes Minister mentioned them in an episode called The Skeleton in the Closet, and I quote – “Parkinson’s law of social work you see; it’s well known that social problems increase to occupy the total number of social workers to deal with them”. This is, of course, a gross exaggeration but the occupation of a social worker is not that many people would choose, though most feel free to criticise. This is demonstrated really well in Lost Watch’s production Left My Desk which is its first show at the New Diorama Theatre since becoming Associate Ensemble.

Left my Desk is a series of scenes in the life of Senior Social Worker Becca (Rianna Dearden) and the people she deals with (Jennifer Daley, Rachel Hosker, Adam Langstaff and Jamie Samuel). Becca, like the rest of her team, has a full caseload of work, dealing with delinquent children, unfit mothers and absent fathers to name but a few. Things are not easy, and in fact, on some visits, she needs to be accompanied by the team’s resident police officer. On top of everything in the office, she has a real life outside of work with her husband and family, some of whom can’t understand why she does what she does. And, to be fair, there are times when she wonders as well. All in all, life is hard for Becca and there are very few high spots to her day.

Having read the advertising material, I was expecting Left my Desk to be a sixty-minute diatribe about the iniquities of government and the lack of funding given to social services. In fact, apart from one small scene, this wasn’t the case and instead, writer Olivia Hirst presented a very realistic glimpse of what it means to be a social worker in twenty-first century Britain and I have to say, my admiration of the profession really shot up by the end. The fact that the script is based on real-life stories from social workers adds to the realism and helps paint a depressing picture of their lives that, at times, made me wonder why they carry on trying to help. Dearden’s portrayal of Becca really helped with her portrayal of all the aspects of Becca’s life feeling very true to life – ably assisted by the other actors playing a large variety of roles with aplomb.

Having worked in local government, though in a different area, but also one that dealt with deprived people, certain scenes really resonated with me. The double booking of meeting rooms and the obstreperous attitude of workers from other departments, with their lack of flexibility over hot desks. The workload and occasional sense of despair as it seems you are achieving nothing, really felt familiar, and overall the entire production brought back many memories of my time there.

Overall, Left My Desk is a pretty hard-hitting snapshot of social work today and, whilst it is potentially quite depressing, there are a surprising number of amusing moments to stop it being too bleak. Lucy Wray’s direction is spot on and makes great use of the set and space available. When you add in Hector Murray’s lighting and Fergus Waldron’s sound design to the great writing and acting, you get a show that entertains and educates and really shows off the life of a social worker in all its facets.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Becca leaves the office at 0856. Uniform is waiting. They speed across the city, blues and twos blaring, on the trail of a missing woman.

It’s like a police drama!
Except Becca is a social worker, and they never put social workers in police dramas.
Based on testimonies from social workers and research organisation Frontline, Left My Desk follows Becca – played by Lost Watch co-founder Rianna Dearden – to the brink and back again in a story told with pace, pathos, music, colour and lashings of gallows humour under the direction of Almeida Theatre Resident Director Lucy Wray.

The backdrop for Left My Desk is a Britain where budgets across councils are at breaking point, making the already-difficult job of social work increasingly impossible.

Social Care is needed in every town, city and village across the UK; it’s as integral as the police service and as oversubscribed as Accident and Emergency on a Friday night. Demand is high, wages are low, and burnout is common. Left My Desk puts a human face on this political football and gives a rare insight into life in one of the country’s harshest professional environments.

Left My Desk
By Lost Watch
29th May – 16th June 2018
New Diorama Theatre
15-16 Triton Street
Regent’s Place
London NW1 3BF


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