views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Work Play
Ovalhouse
11th November 2016

★★★☆☆

Nick Field

Photography provided by Ovalhouse

I don't know about you, but there has been many a time when dear Dolly's 9 to 5 has sounded pretty appealing. Honestly, if you think 9 to 5 is soul-destroying, try 9 to midnight for a boss who openly hates you. Being an adult frequently sucks and a large part of that is holding down a day job to pay the bills. If the audience at last night's performance of Work Play are anything to go by, we've all sacrificed everything from family to dignity in the name of work. It's this frustration and anger that drives the narrative of Nick Field's one-man show Work Play, which the performer and playwright has clearly based on a lot of his own personal experiences.

The interactive parts of Field's show land incredibly well, with flashes of sheer brilliance in his enforced fun work-themed quiz and sacrificial ritual. Very few people make it through life without enduring at least one awful job and the reliable vitriol for the audience's present and past employers draws them effortlessly into the action, prompting them to want to volunteer their own stories and generate plenty of humour. There's a touch of politics in the piece, however it feels well-woven into the script rather than standing out as a disjointed angry manifesto. Expecting an audience to contribute to a show is always risky, but let's face it, this is the kind of subject where everyone has something to say and something to share.

Work Play is made up of lots of different scenes with varying levels of participation and tone. The constant shift makes it hard to stay engaged all the time and this makes for a very inconsistent production. Thoughtful monologues lose their power as we suddenly realise we're no longer playing with Field and instead meant to sit and watch quietly. Additionally, some moments are painfully drawn out, with Field repeatedly labouring the point over the bizarre yet true importance of stationery in office politics. The idea of all the crazy rituals is funny to a point, however Field takes so long here that it becomes almost uncomfortable. Whilst many of his ideas are truly inspired, director Rebecca Atkinson-Lord needs to take more control and make the necessary cuts to get the pacing right.

Although the use of projection works well, particularly with the hashtags, technical difficulties mean the words shown to the audience behind Field's back frequently fall out of sync with his live dialogue. It's distracting, which is a shame, but can probably be put down to press night nerves in a new venue. Field radiates confidence at times, then betrays a touch of stage fright at others, shaking and stumbling over some of his lines. You do forget and forgive the flaws because when he's performing to his A-game, Field is deliciously funny and makes us laugh hard. They aren't simple laughs of recognition, they're raucous chuckles that make it hard to breathe.

The stage is simply dressed as any typical office with a desk, chair, pedestal and stationery cupboard. There are though some more whimsical touches to the set - to say more would be to reveal the surprises created be designer Sarah Booth. Needless to say, Field manages to turn simple office items into weapons of power and frequently leaves us wondering if we've walked into some strange cult event. To his absolute credit, he manages to do a lot with very little with this being very much a show that captures the spirit of the fringe.

Ridiculously relatable and so much fun, Work Play is a great concept delivered with enthusiasm and energy. Perfectly enjoyable, this could be an excellent piece with some more forceful direction and a tighter pace.

Work Play opened on 10th November and runs until 12th November 2016 at Ovalhouse.

Nearest tube station: Oval (Northern)



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