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The Work We Do at White Bear Theatre | Review

Sex sells, as this production would have it, set in a recording studio where, by Annie’s (Laura Shipler Chico) estimate, hundreds of erotic audiobooks have been recorded. I couldn’t help but do a quick online search after the show – actual titles of actual audiobooks include Wicked and Wild, Dragon in the Dark and Illicit: A Novel. As far as this show goes, such are the detailed descriptions of everything that goes on that ultimately, not much is left to the imagination. But there are no pants down demonstrations here, because there doesn’t need to be: the audience are listeners, not viewers, as Annie has to remind Harry (Will Tusker), who is new to the world of audio erotica recordings.

The Work We Do at White Bear Theatre.
The Work We Do at White Bear Theatre.

The two actors increasingly find, with each conversation in the breaks during the recording, that they see the world very differently. Harry is minded to be emotionally invested in his work, while Annie would rather turn up, get on with the job, and leave at the end of the shift without bringing her whole self to work. What Harry does to earn a living when he’s not recording is difficult for Annie to deal with, even if she isn’t prepared to admit it, and essentially, the play exposes some contemporary assumptions some people still have about the oldest profession.

The show provides an overview of what it is like to work with someone one doesn’t get on with, such that there is cooperation at a professional level for the purposes of the job but there is more chance of winning the EuroMillions than there is of them having a coffee together outside of work. Leaving aside the specifics of recording erotica, the applicability and relevance of such a scenario is far-reaching – and indeed, how dull would life be if everyone had the same ideology?

There are rules, Annie almost barks at Harry, that the ‘boy’ (as she calls him at one point) isn’t following, having gone off-piste and improvised. The stories, she says, are scripted, having been subjected to a vetting procedure and other checks and balances, implying (without actually saying so) that there are even possible legal implications for going off-script. That isn’t, at least on the surface level, quite how the production manager (also the chief executive of the audiobook company, apparently) puts it to Harry, diplomatically saying they’ll keep the improvised recording for now and review it at a later point. Such are workplace dynamics, with leaders trying to keep the peace.

Mind games ensue and the pair seem to attempt to throw each other off course, but of course, they get through whatever they need to get through. Or do they? Such are their acting abilities that the studio wants them to hang back afterwards to record a sample of another story. That they are reading off scripts to record the audiobook might well mean less of a need to learn lines. That is ultimately neither here nor there. The play feels like it happens in real-time, and this relatively brief piece of theatre covers a lot of ground, with some dark humour, a healthy amount of dramatic tension, and highly convincing performances.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Annie – Laura Shipler Chico
Harry – Will Tusker

Written and directed by Cerys Jones

The Work We Do explores our relationship to work, sexuality, and the prejudices surrounding both. Two performers, Annie and Harry, meet for the first time in a studio to record an erotic audio story. But can two people with such different viewpoints really come together?

White Bear Theatre
4 to 8 June 2024


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