Preview – Dining Al Desko at Etcetera Theatre: ‘shredder-sharp satire’

It’s three minutes to nine and Julie is ready. Work-surface polished, peace-lily watered, pens fastidiously organised (Stabilo Boss next to Berol. Berol next to Bic): another day of back-breaking labour beckons. Next in is one-man-accounts-team Tom: tie askew, shirt untucked, papers spilling onto the floor as he hurries to his basement hideaway. Finally Trish turns up, “unfashionably late and unfortunately dressed” in a gaudy red jacket and oversized spangly earrings. Trish is the new social media intern: an Instagram-Influencer and Buzzword-Bullshitter. V. on-trend.

Told through intertwining monologues, Alastair Curtis’ Dining Al Desko is a shredder-sharp satire of overwork, ladder-climbing aspiration and social-media-savvy superficiality. Set in a consciously trendy open-plan office (complete with a multi-faith room and ‘shared innovation space’) of a nondescript company, little appears onstage save for the titular desk, while scene changes are accompanied somewhat incongruously by farcical jingles and classic rock.

Given its simple staging, the play’s comedy derives largely from its script. Curtis’ writing is delectably pithy. Dining Al Desko ravenously skewers the language of business bluster, mangling metaphors, management-speak, and clichés (“I tried pulling the plug but the phones were cordless”) with puckish playfulness. Problems with the theatre’s projector only brought the writing’s quality into finer focus.

Curtis’ script is superbly acted. Christopher Page portrays Tom as a glitching jukebox of pained laughter – an unhinged automaton wearing a permanent expression of teeth-clenched strain. India Opzoomer brings a frazzled humour and creeping pathos to Julie, the overly-keen Pret A Manger-muching micro-manager desperate to prove her worth. Meanwhile Mia Georgis is super fab as Trish, speaking in hashtags and spouting endless tripe about envisioning a ‘post-customer’ future à la W1A’s Siobhan Sharpe. Georgis plays up Trish’s vacuity and unwarranted immodesty, yet also gives her a knowing wit that prevents her becoming an oblivious object of mockery.

Each character presents a sanguine masquerade that quickly slips. Tom’s marital troubles and gambling debts worsen; Julie descends through the company hierarchy, while Trish rapidly (and suspiciously) rises to an unwanted position of responsibility as Head of Customer Relations, supplanting Julie and her beloved desk. How the tables have turned.

Curtis’ characters may live out the clichés they garble but they also transcend stereotypes, eliciting empathy as well as laughter. Trish’s Insta-perfect filter falters; Julie’s over-zealous optimism turns to wild-eyed weariness. Though the play’s tragic denouement is not foreshadowed enough, Dining Al Desko skilfully observes the insidious, spirit-crushing culture of goal-orientated ambition, business bureaucracy and workplace harassment. It’s V. on trend, but also V. funny.

**** (4/5)

Tightrope Theatre’s Dining Al Desko runs at Edinburgh Fringe at theSpace on the Royal Mile from August 3-25. Tickets start from £5.


Sam Taylor is an arts journalist who recently graduated with an English degree from UCL. He writes film and music reviews for the Financial Times, conducts interviews for The Cusp and edits London Student’s Review section. He has also been published by Jazzwise and The Independent and plays lead guitar in alt-rock band Where’s John?

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