Job Seekers Anonymous scrutinises the disappointment of entering the job market as an over-qualified adult, and concurrently finding oneself in a lengthy relationship with the dole office. Although a little underwhelming at times, with this show Arches Brick Award winners Sh!t Theatre frequently hit a pleasingly comic mark.
Seemingly weaned on the postmodern absurdism of Vic and Bob, Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole’s ‘cabaret-meets-performance art’ act has a loose rambling structure. Even their respective looks set the scene””effervescent Rebecca is styled like Bowie by a drunken toddler with a crayon, wry Louise an androgynous Bouffon in scrawled moustache. Props are kept to a bare minimum: Powerpoint, newspapers (from which they fashion part of their stage costumes) and their own homemade stickers corroborate the DIY ethos of the performance.
However, Job Seekers Anonymous‘ strengths are also its weaknesses. The tone feels a little tentative, and the episodic structure doesn’t always work, leaving gaps which could be better utilised with more content. Sometimes it just needed better content. It was hard to engage with a history lesson on the failings of a Margaret Thatcher government illustrated by dancing around in her mask; that section seemed trite, and by now a tad hackneyed.
But when Biscuit and Mothersole succeed, there is much to savour. The show exhibits a giddy, freewheeling silliness in the Celia Johnston voiced jobcentre skit and breathy Woman’s Hour parody. This is offset by cathartic outbursts on familial violence and broken relationships. Such self-deprecating humour, bordering on the masochistic, is delivered in a deadpan mode reminiscent of Bryony Kimmings at her most savage.
Their own songs are scathing little feminist gems, sung full throated with warm fantastic harmonies, played on acoustic guitar and uke, using a metre which never quite fits. Satirical barbs mostly hit the intended targets: a two-tier capitalist society with an unworkable system, the patriarchy, their own middle-class backgrounds with parents who expected so much of them.
In a week dominated by the scandal of (now-ex) Culture Secretary Maria Millar’s expenses claims, JSA is timely. The underlying depiction of a government unable to cope with educated twentysomethings is very prescient, and will be relatable for the many people batted like pinballs around part-time work or temporary contracts, only to be spat back out again onto the dole. It is the grim uncertainties surrounding employment that Louise and Rebecca play with, and which provide the show with real grit.
More polish would keep JSA tight and zippy””yet not showing the seams would almost defeat the purpose, because it is in moments of comic improvisation where Biscuit and Mothersole show what they are made of. When one audience member refuses to leave the stage, they base the rest of the show around her, hilarious crooning a downbeat version of You Can Get It If You Really Want.
Sh!t Theatre’s character comedy is fine, but, as with their peer Bryony Kimmings, they are easily at their most endearing as themselves.