The daily grind of office life can often prove to be dull, monotonous and soul destroying. In his new play, Ed Harris delves into the human cost of nine-to-five life. Directed by Soho Theatre’s Artistic Director Steve Marmion, and using the same company of actors as his previous production of Anthony Neilson’s Realism, Harris’ comedy contains moments of the dark and bizarre.
As the audience enter the theatre, life in the office is already in progress. Marie (Robyn Addison), a twenty-something year old female is sat between her co-workers Only Joe (Simon Kunz) and Elvis (Shane Zaza), and all three are simultaneously tapping away at their keyboards, stuck in an endless loop of data-entry. The team are supervised by the jittery, uptight and draconian Honey (Golda Rosheuvel), who frequently stomps into the office to ensure the team are sticking to her rules.
At first the play seems like it’s covering familiar ground, a typical office drama, televisual in execution, but the tone soon descends into the surreal. When Marie barters her overtime for some leave during her probation period, she spends endless nights sleeping on the office floor. The pacing becomes more erratic as she appears to experience a series of what seem like hallucinations. These involve her meeting a paper-munching elderly cleaning woman named Pippop (Joanna Holden) who dreams about a lost love. Marie also bears witness to a string of increasingly odd events including an attempted suicide, a baby emerging out of someone’s mouth, and Elvis’ retelling of the time he saw a prawn meeting an Eskimo under a bridge.
The events, although strikingly surreal, are grounded in human experience. Loss is a running theme amongst the characters, each of whom has experienced a loss of some kind. The emotions associated with their loss are triggered by objects in a workplace where barely suppressed desires sit just beneath the surface of things. Harris highlights the cost of spending one’s working life in such a relentless and soulless environment, but whilst his writing is sharp and funny, there’s something unsatisfying about the way he ties things up at the end of the play. The play doesn’t leave much of an emotional imprint and it seems unfinished.
The energetic performances by the cast are all comparably strong. Robyn Addison brings the right mix of vulnerability and self assurance to Marie whilst Simon Kunz is commanding as the unpleasant but shrewd Only Joe. Shane Zaza gives a gentleness to Elvis, but Joanna Holden’s Pippop is the most memorable character. Her endearing performance is responsible for the most laughter. Hayley Grindle’s set, with its filing cabinets and grey walls, successfully evokes the dreariness of office life, whilst Tom Mills’ amplified key strokes emphasises the monotony.