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Ward and Watts in... Journey to the Centre of the Office
The Young Actors Theatre
18th July 2014


Chloe Ward and Alex Wards

Photography provided by Ward and Watts

When you cover as much of the fringe circuit as we do, sometimes you come across a few of the same faces. At one point, we did sit down and debate the question, "Are we accidentally stalking Chloe Ward?" Whatever we saw, she seemed to be in it - such as the excellent site-specific production Open House. After going off our radar for a whole year, Ward has popped back up again, this time teaming up with Alex Watts, and the two of them are taking on PBH's Free Fringe with 55 minutes of sketch comedy they've penned themselves.

Journey to the Centre of the Office primarily focuses on a temp's latest assignment at a company packed full of far too many layers of management and a mysterious printer jam that no one else can apparently fix. As Ward tries to get on with the job in hand, answering calls and filing paperwork, Watts plays the many different characters from the office, including the CEO who spends more time playing with dinosaurs than he does analysing the monthly management accounts.

Much of the humour comes from recognition - let's face it, we've all worked for someone we thought was a lot stupider than us. The red tape of yearly appraisals, annoying colleagues who think we're best buddies when we can't stand them - the pair borrow heavily from what we can only assume are real experiences. They certainly feel familiar enough to be taken from real life. But as in Ward's debut solo show Gap Year, it's all overblown enough to allow for some real laughs.

While it's strong on the whole, not all of the jokes land perfectly and an early sketch involving a starfish seems out of sync and a bit too random to be entertaining. However, part of this is down to the lack of clear transitioning between scenes. Whilst there is one continuing narrative, it's broken up with several short sketches which have very little to do with the main thrust. These mostly do work to reinvigorate the piece, but on occasion can fall a little flat.

Journey to the Centre of the Office is a typically low budget fringe show, but bringing in another person to do a little bit of tech would make all the difference. Whether blackouts or sound design, with something to mark the end of one scene and let us know the setting has changed, perhaps some of the early jokes would work better. Granted, this is difficult or next to impossible for some of PBH's Edinburgh basements, but if they want to take it further after Edinburgh, it's a friendly nudge to ensure they don't rest on their laurels.

However, with all that said, there are a few clear comedy gems - Ward singing about "killing time in the toilet" is an astute piece of musical observational comedy which was met with raucous laughter. We also enjoyed an early song about being a slightly deranged music teacher with Ward playing to her undeniable strength of crafting memorable, OTT characters. Our first compliment of a young Victoria Wood is still seen in spades here. Watts brings his fair share of laughs too, a favourite being when he takes on the part of an over-friendly co-worker who gets put in his place. Most of all, though, the pair work together as an actual double act, with a natural chemistry you just can't fake.

Admittedly, some material could benefit from being sharper, but together, Ward and Watts are a highly likeable duo who deliver their lines with conviction, a fabulous energy and inherent charm. The slightly weaker parts of the show are covered up by the instant goodwill they foster with their audience - and that ability to get a crowd on side is unteachable. You either have that or you don't, and these two certainly know to win over a room.

If you're up in Edinburgh this year, it's certainly worth taking a punt on Ward and Watts. Even if they haven't tightened up their writing by then, they're a lot of fun and deserve to start building a following. Plus, you can hardly complain at the ticket price - and this outing simply helps hasten death of the idea that paid shows are somehow more legitimate or worth an audience's time. The chemistry and concept are both there, and hopefully Journey to the Centre of the Office is the first of many comedy stylings from Ward and Watts.

Ward and Watts in... Journey to the Centre of the Office previewed in London on 18th July 2014 at the Young Actors Theatre. It will run from 13th to 24th August 2014 at the Serenity Cafe, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

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