As I write this review in Brexit Britain, I have one ear on Prime Minister’s Questions. While May and Corbyn throw jibes at one another and jeers echo across the chamber, I am reminded that politics of any kind is often a low art, a competitive school kid’s game masquerading as big ideas and social change.
Office politics is no different. In Dining al Desko, three flustered employees jostle for position: twitchy accountant, Tom-from-Finance (Christopher Page), ambitious (but ‘spiritual’) social media intern Trish (Mia Georgis) and frazzled, neurotic Julie (India Opzoomer), desperate to be noticed by their elusive boss, Mark, who seems far more interested in Trish… As the three characters deliver monologues to the audience about their 9-5, we peep inside the heads of three young professionals just about managing to stay afloat. And as in July 2018’s Westminster, bold, brave ideas are turned to mush, and we are unsure what the company is actually meant to be doing and who is doing what. ‘The thing about ideas,’ says Trish, delivering one of her typically empty maxims, ‘is that some people have them, and some people don’t.’
Philippa Lawford’s direction is as slick as Julie’s desk, with its perpendicularly placed highlighters, post-it notes and Bic pens. Scene changes are punctuated by short, ironic bursts of 80’s pop songs, and a projector flashes equally sardonic words in Arial font on a screen behind the action to label each scene: ‘a wobble’; ‘panic’; ‘deep breath’; ‘anger’; ‘depression’. It feels like we are watching both a play, and a dodgy sales pitch where the PowerPoint slides have a bad hangover. The claustrophobia of an open-plan office is deftly replicated in the cramped staging, in which all three characters are usually on stage, close together, despite never interacting with one another. Instead, they exist in their own individual head bubbles, eyes glued to their own internal screens. In this stultified IKEA-environment, stationary, furniture and who-sits-where take on symbolic meaning. Desks function diplomatically: in one particularly poignant moment, Trish is forced to take over Julie’s desk as she climbs the ladder, in a scene labelled ‘downsizing’ by the projector.
Any three-man cast needs to be strong, and the actors carry the sparkling script along with crackling energy. Opzoomer’s comic timing is both self-effacing and deeply moving as she portrays a young woman desperately trying to catch a break, buckling under office pressure. Her anxious presence – and one hilariously frantic consumption of a Pret almond croissant – is offset by Georgis’s sharply observed performance as the Instagram savvy intern who has a brash exterior but a sensitive inner life, and a surprisingly strong moral compass when the chips are down. Page is side-splitting as the hopeless Tom, who’s failing marriage, failing job and failing sanity all collide at the finale of the play in a cloud of unnerving, high-pitched laughter.
Curtis has a fine eye for taking stock characters – the dowdy, bitter receptionist, the ‘namaste’ millennial, the man-on-the-verge – and dismantling them, piece by piece, until they burst out of their finely crafted boxes and into fully formed, three-dimensional characters. Just as Trish describes the current climate as a soon-to-be ‘post-social media’ world, Dining al Desko is not just satire – it is post-satire. And, as Trish says, ‘the truth is you’ve gotta get over that shit before it gets over you.’ This play does just that. It is fresh, modern and continually surprising.
Dining al Desko is a brilliantly well-timed comment on office politics and bureaucratic pressure, that has big things to say about wider society, despite its claustrophobic focus. The cast sparkle in their roles and the script makes you laugh, quite genuinely, out loud. Catch it this Saturday, or at its run up at the Edinburgh Fringe – it is not to be missed.
Dining al Desko runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at theSpace on the Royal Mile on these dates:
August 3 – 11, £7/£5 (10.05am)
August 13 – 18, £9/£8 (10.45am)
August 20 – 25 £10/£9 (10.35am)