Dining Al Desko leaps forth with a gleeful nihilism, capturing the very worst of office life in the very best of ways. A comically tragic (or tragically comic?) exploration of high-pressure stress in the world of work, it is a production that succeeds in the difficult task of remaining grounded in a bleak reality while offering a genuinely laugh-out-loud funny look at what may well be our futures. Written with a pointed wit that leaves no survivors, it is wonderfully, precisely delivered and a reminder that if all else fails, we at least have humour as coping mechanism for 9-5 life.
it is wonderfully, precisely delivered and a reminder that if all else fails, we at least have humour as coping mechanism for 9-5 life
Characterisation takes precedence over plot, as we watch 3 office-workers attempting to cope with increasing pressure in their respective roles. First there’s Julie (Julia Pilkington), high-strung and office culture personified, as she attempts to keep everything together by energetically organising her desk, worrying about the feng shui of the space, and spewing office talk in a manner that would make David Brent envious. Yet little can prepare her for the threat of newcomer Trish (Kate Weir), over-the-top, young and keen to climb high at work, which she finds out too late, comes with hidden downsides. Finally there’s Tom (Christopher Page), trapped as an auditor in a basement as much as he is trapped in a financially strained marriage, with nowhere to turn to except the company accounts. As each of these characters begins to reach tipping point, they keep up highly energised, optimistic facades, even when everything is crumbling underneath, providing an insightful look at a variety of unhealthy ways to deal with pressure.
The play’s key selling point is its humour, which is consistently high throughout and incredibly sharply delivered by its cast. From Trish’s seemingly genuine belief that there is an “art to stapling”, delivered with the nervous energy of a caffeinated bee, to Trish’s oblivion to the impropriety of her jokes (her reference to her “Fukushima moment” eliciting roars of laughter at its sheer audacity, for example), to Tom’s increasingly desperate attempts to justify his criminality, all three are a delight to watch. Although the tone of the plot may have been a tad choppy at a few select moments, this is not noticeable when humour prevails so well.
The play’s key selling point is its humour
The staging is thoroughly thought out, creating the sense of a surprisingly big space in the BT theatre, with separate parts of the stage used for the separate characters. The transitions between characters are a particular highlight, as a whiteboard is used to denote mood and character and music keeps the play flowing. At one point, keeping in line with the theme of maintaining positive energy while the world is falling to bits, upbeat music plays over transitions between stages of grief, as told through the headings on the screen. The tension that this creates mirrors well the tension between the comic and the tragic, the brutal reality and ridiculous light-heartedness throughout.
Dining Al Desko is the peak of office comedy because it does not hold back in energy or humour. Its unashamed dealings with difficult reality through witty one-liners and increasingly ridiculous characters means that you’ll either cry until you laugh, or laugh until you cry; and even if it is a glimpse into the futures of many in the audience, it is a joy to behold.