by Ed Harris.

Soho Theatre 21 Dean Street W1D 3NW To 6 August 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 35min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7478 0100.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 July.

Individual depiction of a strange little world.
From comedy to romance, the office has been a dramatic space round the world (Murray Schisgal’s The Typists, 1963, from the USA; Roger Hall’s Glide Time, 1976, in New Zealand) – and that TV series. Most of the possibilities are assembled in Ed Harris’s new play.

It’s a mongrel in other ways. The neat array of desks and routine work disguise a variety of personalities, with territoriality, anxieties and desires. Certainly in the mongrel trio here, with their endless paperwork at computer-screens. Robyn Addison’s relative newcomer works all-hours to earn a few days off to help sort her dead mother’s affairs. Simon Kunz’s Joe has a wearily sex-stained wit, while young Asian Elvis works eternally on bikes outside work-hours.

It’s actually a quartet, counting Honey, the opposite of sweet and healthy, keeping-up the pressure on the workers as she stalks around without realising how much strain she’s undergoing herself. At first it’s all comic, from Joe’s barbed humour to Honey’s jabbing body-language.

The agent of change is Pippop, the mystical early-hours cleaner whose spontaneity and enthusiasm contradict routine, bringing, as the play becomes increasingly fantastical, the essential human events of birth and marriage right to the work-surface.

Binding this all together is a tough job, but Harris structures his developments and allows for predictive expectation in audience minds. It’s something Steve Marmion’s production picks-up on in detail, with a suite of fine performances. The 8.30am-5pm culture’s caught in arrival routines, as the office-clock flips over minutes and hours.

Microsoft boots-up each 8.30am, part of a soundtrack also including occasional low-overhead flights apparently unnoticed by the accustomed office-workers. And things become steadily more unsteady as the neat office, having been invaded by stacked shelves of box-files, descends into a chaos more reflecting its occupants’ minds.

It’s clear, however much you know about the people you work with, you never really know them. As for communicating, Shane Zaza explains his character’s nickname with a two-note sound, while Joanna Holden’s Pippop makes Marie understand her with gestures more than words. In the world where the word-spouting Honey can’t remember Marie’s name, that seems sensible.

Marie: Robyn Addison.
Pippop: Joanna Holden.
Only Joe: Simon Kunz.
Honey: Golda Rosheuvel.
Elvis: Shane Zaza.

Director: Steve Marmion.
Designer: Hayley Grindle.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Composer: Tom Mills.
Puppetry: Rachael Canning.

2011-07-22 10:13:13

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