Breakfast Plays: The Future is…
Traverse Theatre, v15
09:00 (13-25 August, various days)
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)
Another cracking play to start the day! Work-Life by Diane Stewart is another three-hander excellently directed by Becky Hope Palmer. At first, I thought it was going to be three completely separate monologues but the characters’ lives intertwined more and more closely, both literally and figuratively, as the play progressed.
Katie is working in a warehouse, packing customers’ orders with the ‘assistance’ of an electronic device to which she talks incessantly: its intermittent beeping could lead you to suppose it is responding – Katie certainly talks to it as though it can understand as she vents her feelings about Jamie Oliver, wonders how soon she will be obsolete and reassures the machine it won’t be let go, it’ll just be upgraded – and if it does stop working, it won’t know. She appreciates the fact that the machine always listens – people where she works are too busy to listen or speak to each other, and she works such long hours she’s always tired and ready to go to bed. Suddenly there is a broadcast message [that sounds as though it’s coming from underwater – she can’t believe it, thinks it’s a joke, but when it’s repeated, realises that it’s real: her job has been ‘terminated’. She reassures the machine that it will be okay – it can always be reprogrammed and given new skills: but still can’t really believe she has to go – there’s so much else she wants to tell the machine.
She goes, and someone else comes on whose name and purpose are unclear as she enthuses about the wind being the one thing that feels right, and asserts that she is ‘actively making a difference – not like most people’ as she lives her solitary life in what is quite a harsh environment. Other people “will work and they will die, and they will never live” – she will make a difference!
Cut back to Katie, who is facing the press and refusing to say she blames the machines: she appreciates their design. She is at home later and is surprised by the arrival of a friend from way back when [whose name we never learn] who has come to see if Katie is okay. She doesn’t receive the welcome from Katie which she seems to expect, and is somewhat taken aback when her offers of help are refused.
Her friend’s monologue reveals her own unthinking compulsion to buy the things that Katie worked her butt off to pack: seeing Katie on TV has made her question her actions: it’s so easy to browse, to click, to buy – stuff she ends up not using… She muses about the weirdness of her relationship with her delivery drivers: she can track their every move and they could know just about everything there is to know about her life. She wants to ‘do her bit’ – or, more honestly, to seem to be doing her bit: sometimes trying to make the ‘right’ choice paralyses her. Seeing Katie on the TV made her realise she is to blame, and that she has to change herself and everything else – but her addiction to Stuff seems too deeply embedded for her to realise it exists: she will simply end up “buying better stuff from better shops”…
The eco-warrior turns up at Katie’s house – it’s her mum! An acutely observed mother-daughter non-conversation ensues: when her mum leaves Katie observes that everyone has answers, everyone wants to tell me what to do: she’s never had time to think what she want to do, she’s been too busy working – but now she has time. The next step she takes is perhaps not surprising – but what she discovers and what transpires is not necessarily what you might be expecting…
It’s an intense play with a lot of incidental humour in it which features three superb performances from Dawn Sievewright as Katie, Neshla Caplan as her friend, and Gail Watson as her mum. The two young women’s situations were clearly and sympathetically presented, and some answers suggested – but no real solution offered to the possibly insoluble problem of increased mechanisation and computerisation putting
more and more people out of jobs in a society which only values you if you are able to work. What I found most interesting was that Katie’s mother, who felt she’d got it all right, was doing all the right things, and, to be honest, rated herself rather more highly than the rest of humanity, was no less complicit in the environmental mess we’re in than anyone else.
Another wake-up call – and yet again I wonder how many of the enthusiastic audience would leave the theatre seriously intending to change their ways…