Monday, 16 January 2017

Review Wish List


Wish List
by Katherine Soper

Stand And Deliver
https://royalcourttheatre.com/

Are we all now living in a pipe dream Wish List economy since state terminology changed us from citizens to customers?

From the health service, through education,  the workplace and benefits' system, dominated by  computerization and the internet,  Katherine Soper's Bruntwood prize-winning play Wish List strikes a timely Kafkaesque note

Agency worker Tamsn (Erin Doherty) is setting off for her first day at a fulfilment centre. No, it's not a place where all her dreams will be fulfilled but the storage and packing warehouse of an internet mail order company.

She's taken a zero-hours' contract job while her mentally ill younger brother Dean (Joseph Quinn) has had his benefits suspended and possibly taken away altogether.

Allocated a role packaging goods from the conveyor belt,  she finds the heat is on - both literally and figuratively in the oppressively hot working conditions.

She dons the hi-vis vest and uncomfortable plastic boots provided but it's a job where she's just as much a consumer as a worker, paying for a locker and accruing points, although these are not for loyalty but penalties working like warnings which can lead to dismissal.

And rather than simply being computer programmed, the productivity targets seem deliberately set up for failure and to keep the worker psychologically cowed.

Even though they are in competition, she forms a bond with fellow worker Luke (Shaquille Ali-Yebuah). He can afford to be more of more ducker and diver, indulging in apparently undetected petty theft from the firm and covering for Tamsin's relatively inept efforts. For he is off to join another, but less bottom-of-the-pile, conveyor belt, to college and a job in the ambulance service.

Directed by Matthew Xia, Erin Doherty gives a finely tuned performance as Tamsin, a teen dealing with problems which would break many a seasoned adult. Ali-Yebuah has a boyish charm as co-worker and her brother's former schoolmate Luke.

This is in some ways a perfunctory play with plenty of facts written to a template with a seemingly realistic structure giving way to something more fantastical after a bout of drinking, a dream and with the now almost-obligatory-in-new-writing rendition of a song from recent pop culture, in this case Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell.

There are also elements which beg basic practical questions. Wouldn't Tamsin have gone to the Citizens Advice Bureau rather than trying to cope alone? Where is Dean's GP? How can Dean afford an internet connection and to keep a bank account as well as the copious amounts of hair gel he orders for his obsessive compulsive disorder? It does sometimes radiate an actorly concentration on character at the expense of some of the practicalities.

Nevertheless, it's the arrangement of ideas behind this play that does herald an original voice, even if the execution of the script feels a little clumsy and the play overlong. There is a clever merging of school, the health service, benefits' system and the warehouse work - in short, much of life - in a bingo game of chance and cheating.

It also reminded TLT that in the 1950s a flurry of time-and-motion style baby "experts" advised, impossibly, that babies should only be fed and picked up at set times and other mechanical tips.  Ready, some critics of this type of parenting said, for working in factories.

It seems that the times have come full circle in this twenty first century play without the increasing affluence that accompanied the post Second World War economy. It's an upper range amber light for a promising debut play from a writer who brings an understanding of how this working environment is now  moulding lives outside the warehouses in a work-unfair state.

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