The brilliant sound design gives hints as to the characters’ inner lives. Distant beeps and sirens lend an isolated bleakness to the setting. A dictation tape of a dull-sounding meeting morphs gradually into an erotic reverie and then something rather darker. The presentation of a 30th birthday card is accompanied by doom-laden, distorted bells.
The choice of setting gives the piece a lot of leeway. This is not by any means the first time that someone has chosen to highlight the odd combination of surreality and boredom that accompanies low-impact office jobs, and Top of the World theatre company have correctly assumed that we’re familiar enough with this basic premise to allow it to be bent thoroughly out of shape. The best way to describe the work as a whole would be in terms of a piece of avant-garde classical music – the sort where low hums of ambient noise are suddenly penetrated by a mad, shrieking scramble of strings or a sudden burst of low chords from the brass section. It veers (sometimes haphazardly) from slapstick to tragedy, from minutely observed realism to unexpected dislocations from reality. It’s outrageously minimal, but intensely felt.
Which is to say, it doesn’t quite proceed like a ordinary play. If you’re feeling the need for a story with a beginning, middle and an end where characters behave roughly like the sort of ordinary human beings you recognise from everyday life, this shouldn’t be your first choice. However, if you’re in the mood for some brave experimental theatre, and prepared to accept (as you have to be for this sort of thing) that a few of the experiments don’t really yield the intended results, this is going to be a delight.