Dining Al Desko is a witty piece of new writing that documents the lives of three fictional individuals as they navigate the toils of everyday office life. Despite having already been performed at both the Inter-University Drama Festival 2017 and the National Student Drama Festival 2018, as well as a performance at the Old Fire Station last January, Tightrope Productions succeed in providing a fresh run of the play with additional plots and interesting new observations on the callousness of the workplace. This all-new version of the play debuted at the Burton Taylor Studio last night and introduced the most significant change to the play, the inclusion of an entirely new character, Trish (Kate Weir).
Through Trish, as well as the previously seen characters of Julie (Julia Pilkington) and Tom (Chris Page), writer Alistair Curtis and director Philippa Lawford provide a cutting satire on the mundanity of twenty-first century office life, as well as presenting interesting insights into the more psychoanalytical notions of competition, ambition, and waywardness. The dark humour that pervades Curtis’s script neatly lends itself to the formation of the quirky and unpredictable characters. For example, Trish’s arrogance and insensitivity accumulate in her unorthodox approach to rebranding and customer relations. Similarly, Julie’s aspiration to climb the office ladder and the pride she takes in her tidy desk-top exude bitterness and ostensible optimism, while Tom’s embezzlement and desperation for money lead to a darkly humourous twist. All three cast members offer strong performances in portraying these characters. Despite the comic tone to the script, the play also touches upon more pressing contemporary concerns, such as misogyny in the workplace, depression, and financial strain.
Curtis and Lawford present a dichotomy between these idiosyncratic characters and the dullness of the worlds they live in, accurately conveyed through the simple choice of set. Lawford’s set fits the black-box space of the BT Studio, consisting of a centrally placed office desk (upon which stands office paraphernalia such as staplers and filing dishes), a shredder surrounded by disorganised documents, and a selection of chairs. Along with the business-casual style of the costumes, this aesthetic encompasses and epitomises the monotony of office life that continually attempts to restrain and oppress the characters. This brilliantly correlates with Curtis’s script, which is full of pithy and comic aphorisms that capture the ‘nothingness’ of workplace jargon. Similarly, Lawford’s use of tech was well executed, as introducing the title of each new scene on a projector allowed the audience to easily follow the themes and transition between the characters’ monologues. The use of lighting, however, was perhaps too basic throughout the performance.
The play is split into short monologues that are performed to the audience, who acts as a silent observer, thus breaking the fourth wall in a style akin to the mockumentary. These monologues are interjected with silent scenes, including a scene in which the audience observes one of the characters panic eat a packet of crisps. It would have been nice to see some sort of interaction between the three characters in the final scenes of the play, but the characters’ loose strings are tied up well by the end of the play in spite of this. Similarly, although the constant breaking of the fourth wall is successful, there are seemingly unnecessary moments of audience interaction, including exchanges in which the characters offer the audience a cup of coffee or ask them to pick up a dropped highlighter pen. Overall, Dining Al Desko is a play that is definitely worth going to see if you are looking for an enjoyable evening with friends during the penultimate week of term.